When Church Looks Different

It’s been more than a year since the church experienced its pivotal moment of closing our physical doors and shifting to online ministry. Sure, we’ve had some reprieve here and there with meeting face to face for services and events, but primarily we’ve been depending on bandwidth and stream health for our church to remain active and engaged. Church looks a little different right now, and it’s been tough. Tough for the church family, for our elders who truly love to connect with the church, and for the staff who have sorely missed seeing everyone on a Sunday morning (it’s really tough to speak to an empty room and a camera lens!!).

A short time ago I was moving through my daily devotionals. I use a reading plan called Five Day Bible Reading  which pairs the Old and New Testaments with wisdom and poetry passages from the Bible. I was parked in the Old Testament with all its rituals, festivals, statutes, and seemingly endless lists of names and geographic locations. While reading I came to Numbers 9 where God tells Moses how the people who have escaped Egypt must celebrate the Passover at its appointed time and place according to the Lord’s command.

Moses, being Moses, told the people exactly what God had said and outlined what He expected from their worship and remembrance.

“Wait!!,” said the people. “God says to do it at this time and in this place and with these conditions. That’s not always possible, Moses, so what happens if we can’t? Like... what happens if we’re prevented from keeping the Passover at that time or in that place? Are we doomed?”

Moses, being Moses, did the wise thing. He tells them, “Wait here and I’ll go and ask God on your behalf.”

You see, the people were commanded to keep the Passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, in the wilderness of Sinai. Pretty specific, right? Well, in addition to that, there were rules about not celebrating the Passover when coming into contact with a dead body. But sometimes people had to leave the area and were trapped out of town for longer than they had expected. And coming into contact with a dead body wasn’t something you could always plan for or work around!

So Moses talks to God and is given this message to pass on to the people: If you can’t celebrate passover because you or one of your descendants is unclean, or if you are on a long journey and get delayed because of circumstances beyond your control, you still need to keep the Sabbath. But I’m going to let you do it on the second month, on the fourteenth day, at twilight.

In a nutshell, God tells them that while the form might be different, the function is the same.

But then Moses drops this hammer: Hear God clearly on this, people. if you are clean and if you are home but you fail to keep the Passover, then you’re doomed.

Do you see the difference in these situations and how God responds?
You couldn’t but wanted to. I understand and I’ll make a way. 
You could've but didn’t. I don’t understand and you have no excuse.
How do we bring this across to our time? To make this work for a church in Burlington, ON in 2021? To be honest, it’s not that hard to apply the principle to where we are. It comes down to desire, intention and response.

In March 2020 you wanted to go to church, but you couldn’t, but God understood and He made a way.  Zoom, Google Meet, YouTube, Facebook Live, StuMin, Discord (ask a teenager what this is!), Watch Parties, online CB Kids, DGs, prayer calls, online craft events, baby showers and worship nights. What’s more we have had drive-ins, drive-throughs, outdoor meet-ups, communion on the lawn, hikes and more.

“But I desire worship. I want to be with the church family,  I just don't want to do it this way. I miss the way it used to be!"

I miss it too! We all do! But I also am humbled when I remember that the elements of community, discipleship and disciple-making, friendship, teaching, and worship are alive and vibrant at Calvary Burlington, and I just need the desire to take part in all that God is doing. It’s different, for sure. And it's not always easy to psych myself up for being in front of a screen. But it’s also exciting and life-giving to be together in these new ways that God has provided. To learn and to grow within the local church alongside of our brothers in sisters in Christ.

We couldn’t gather the way we were used to, but we wanted to, so God makes a way. We could have gathered in the way that God has provided, but we didn’t want to, so now what? Well, Moses told the people that they were without excuse.

Those are strong words — both then and today. It's important to seek to benefit from every opportunity to be together – online or in person – and to demonstrate with our thoughts, desires, and actions that God is to be valued above all things.

Church looks different. The way we gather feels different. But God has made a way. And I am thankful.

Candi Thorpe

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