24 Mar Immanuel: God With Us
First, I want to thank you for being part of our first ever live-streaming worship on Sunday, for inviting your family and friends to be virtually present with us, and for “sharing” it online later. If I’m honest, I have to admit that this was far more nerve-wracking for me than a “regular” worship service. The technology learning curve has been and continues to be steep—and in an area in which I have zero innate abilities. My thanks to Jenny and Judy for going the extra mile to work through our technical challenges.
Like a lot of people, the past ten days have been full of “firsts” for me: my first ZOOM conference call, my first experience with live-streaming, my first experience with the church doors closed for more than a random snow-induced cancellation. We are all adjusting. We are all learning. I am fascinated already by the prospect of what will be permanently altered as a result of having a pandemic thrust into our lives. Case in point: in a twist that I never saw coming and in fact, never imagined possible, Jenny informs me that 148 people tuned in to our virtual worship service. This included people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado and California, in addition to our local area. It included former Calvary members, extended family members of current members, and some folks who have been unable to attend church for months or years due to chronic illnesses (totally apart from the coronavirus). Needless to say, this expanded “reach” may open a whole new world of possibility for us as we move forward.
For the moment, however, “social distancing” is the new buzz word and our new reality. Restaurants are closed or closing. People are working from home—if they are among the fortunate ones who still have jobs and whose work can be done from a computer. Online learning has taken wings while airlines are grounding planes and canceling flights. Weddings have been postponed. Sadder still, funerals either cannot be held at all or are limited to small family gatherings. People are grieving alone which breaks my heart. Of all the times people do not need to be isolated, it’s when a loved one has died.
But here’s the thing: As much as social distancing has become necessary and our new norm, we can be sure that God quite emphatically does not practice social distancing.
It is not in God’s nature to be distant. The central event in the story of salvation—the Incarnation—is all about God entering our experience, not staying out of it. Immanuel—God with us! God will not and does not distance Godself from us. God has not done this in the past, God is not doing so now, and God will not do it in the future, ever. The Apostle Paul puts it this way:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
In the weeks and months to come, social distancing will require us to make sacrifices and find new ways of staying connected. But as Paul reminds us, God will be with us no matter where we are.
Yours for the Kingdom,