There is a “historic winter storm” headed our way. We’ve kept an eye on the weather.
The yard is already frozen. We picked up groceries this morning. There was black ice on the roads. We fueled our vehicle while we were out and parked at our neighbors’ place on return. They have a flat driveway; ours is a hill.
Molly and the kids stockpiled firewood in the garage. While at the public library on Friday, Molly checked out DVDs and library books to keep us occupied. We covered our outdoor faucets and pulled out our extra hats, gloves, and coats. We’ve closed the blinds and pulled the curtains in an attempt to keep the cold out and the heat in.
Before today it was already cold. Winter weather moved into our area on Thursday, complicating matters for the region. I moved my class online and decided to cancel this weekend’s spiritual formation retreat. Public schools opened on delay. Area colleges and universities began cancelling classes early on Thursday afternoon. Thankfully, road conditions for most were passable during school pick up hours. In Midway, I gathered our school superintendent took heat. Some residents disagreed strongly with the decision to have school.
I feel for the guy. If you decide to have school and weather conditions worsen to an unanticipated degree, you are held at fault for insufficient clairvoyance. If you cancel school and the weather turns out fine, parents are upset their plans for the day were disrupted. And if you call off school and the weather is as bad or worse than expected, you don’t get any credit for making the right call. “Any dummy could’ve made that decision,” it is reasoned.
Yesterday evening Molly and I began looking at the extended forecast, wondering aloud if we’d have church on Sunday. Current projections call for snow early on Sunday morning, but yesterday it appeared as though precipitation would begin Sunday afternoon. Sidewalks and steps outside the church building were already slick on Thursday. We did not have salt on hand. We could put down kitty litter, but the amount of work that could be done to prepare the facility would be limited. One slip and someone could break a hip. Or multiple someones. That’s just at the building. If road conditions are bad, well, accidents could happen on the way.
Going to church is a habit. Hebrews 10:25 exhorts those addressed to not neglect meeting together. The early Christ-followers began gathering on Sunday, rather than Saturday, in remembrance and celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. It was a subtle move, theologically reasoned and practically executed. There is a connection between sabbath keeping and Sunday worship, but it takes work to get there.
In Acts 20:7 we see Paul meeting with the Christian community on the first day of the week, which would have been Sunday by the Jewish calendar. Worship of God with the fellowship of faith is a wise practice, prescribed in the Bible. But when, and how often, and toward what end is up to each local Christian community. With that said, Sunday isn’t a bad idea at all, carrying with it a historical resonance of that first Sunday, where, by Christian reckoning, all of human history hinged and then changed. Resurrection Sunday marks the first day of the new creation.
As I think back over the last two decades of life, the circles I’ve run in have talked a lot about the church. A common refrain has been that the church is not a building. Church is also not an event. The church is a people. The Greek word is ekklesia, or “called out ones.” In the first century this term carried a political connotation. An ekklesia could form the moment everyone was called from their houses into the town square to hear a message, have a debate, or make a public decision. The term still holds that meaning, but it has taken on new shades. The Christian community remains a political body, with an allegiance to Jesus as king, and a way of life that should be distinctive from that commonly practiced among those with allegiance to the kingdoms of this world.
But the church is also a mystical body. It is bound together “in Christ,” sharing in the same Spirit. Ephesians 4:1-32 describes this reality, carrying with it the implication that the church is still the church whether assembled or sent, gathered or scattered. Ephesians 4:4-6 says, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
One way or another, we’re bound. This binding transcends time and space. We are “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” whether we are in the building, or not. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get together. Ephesians 4, again, points us in the right direction. God has given the church “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers can do their work a little easier when we meet together. And if you consider the witness of the New Testament more broadly, the “one another” commands that are given to the church presume a community.
But tomorrow, the course eventually chosen by our church leaders was to remain scattered due to the winter storm. I don’t think it is right to say worship is cancelled, or even that worship is online, even if the order, or service, is facilitated, communicated, and broadcast on the web. Worship takes place wherever the people of God find themselves and, bound together in and by the Spirit, is collectively offered to God as individuals lift their hearts and attribute worth to the One Who is Worthy of All Glory and Honor and Power Forever and Ever.
There is more going on in the spiritual realm, more than we often contemplate, and certainly more than we perceive. It has always been so, but we, as modern people, have had our perceptions dulled to these realities. Perhaps we should humbly ask God to teach us anew, to help us discover and experience the fullness of communion with God and the communion that exists among the saints.
I’m looking forward to the coming days, because I love my family, we are well supplied, there is a fire in the hearth and I have plenty of work to do that can be done remotely, assuming we keep power. I know it is not so for everyone. As the cold has descended, my mind has drifted toward the words of the BCP‘s first rite for Daily Evening Prayer:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give thine angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for thy love’s sake.
I’ll confess that these words also provide the framework for a book I’ve been reading [affiliate link]. But they connect to the present circumstance. This morning, we prayed for our area shelters, as well as for friends who serve in shelters in other cities.
The storm is coming. We may not gather tomorrow. Nevertheless, offer praise. Worship the Lord. Remember the saints. Anticipate the next gathering, and then savor it when it occurs. Rejoice when meeting resumes–and be there. Frozen conditions may keep us out of the building. But they do not severe the ties of the body of Christ.