Today marks the one year anniversary of “Two Weeks to Flatten the Curve.” I’m reminded of the scene from the movie “Wall-E” (if you haven’t seen it, there are some stunning similarities to consider between that movie and the world today), where the Captain declares, “today is the 700th Anniversary of our 5 year cruise.” Yikes, I hope we don’t get that deep into this thing!
It was on March 17, 2020 that I shared my congregation’s response and plan for Covid-19. At that point we were gearing up for just two weeks of modified worship (with the expectation that it would probably be a bit longer than that). I had been considering options and formulating a plan since late January 2020, because all evidence pointed to Covid impacting church life in some way.
The steps we took as a congregation gave our people hope and direction, and we learned that our actions would provide hope and a path for other churches too. Several brother pastors refer to this congregation as, “the church that beat Covid.”
March 22nd would be the first Sunday that we instituted “Tables of Ten” (a brief 15 minute service that was patterned off of the Communion service for the sick and infirm). About 70% of our baptized membership showed up to confess their sins, be absolved, hear God’s Word and receive the Lord’s Supper. I still recall that first Sunday, coming home exhausted yet feeling fulfilled, having offered 16 rounds of Tables of Ten to people hungry for Christ’s gifts. I walked in the door and found my family, still in their Sunday attire, standing in the family room, singing the closing hymn of the pre-recorded Divine Service. It was a moving moment for me then, and still brings a tear to my eye now as I remember that flood of emotion.
As long as people still treasured God’s Word and did everything in their power to receive His gifts, my efforts would not be in vain. I found renewed purpose in the delivery of Christ’s gifts of Word and Sacrament.
So here we are a year later. Aside from a few subtle precautions still in effect, Sunday Divine Services and Sunday School in my parish have been back in action for 6 months. I do still offer “Tables of Ten” to a small contingent of people before the 8am Divine Service and some folks still make appointments to come in during the week to receive our Lord’s gifts. And like every pastor, I continue to make home visits to homebound and high-risk church members.
Throughout Covid, my intention has been to do everything possible to make our Lord’s gifts of Word and Sacrament available to God’s people. Those precious gifts are vital to the life of God’s people!
And yet, as I consider the various ways in which Word and Sacrament has been made available for God’s people this past year, it grieves my heart to know that so many people have not availed themselves of any of the options to receive our Lord’s gifts. It’s happened in my parish and every other congregation worldwide.
Now there were some who received our Lord’s gifts for a short time and then fell off, choosing to neglect Christ’s gifts. Others haven’t darkened the doors since the advent of Covid. And pastoral hearts worry and lament for such starving souls.
As I reflect on the past year of Covid, I realize that many people are afraid. Is Covid serious? It certainly can be. Yet, Covid is just another thing in this world that threatens to bring death.
Like obesity, heart disease, cancer, car crashes, heart attacks, and more, Covid serves as another reminder to all of us that we are mortal and that the wages of sin is death. This means that Covid, and every other thing in life that threatens to kill, should teach us that we must all be ready for the day when we receive our final summons, and breathe our last breath.
If Covid is as bad as many fear it to be – it has the potential to kill you – then you’d better be gathered around the Lord’s gifts so that you are ready to die faithfully in Christ.
If Covid is not as bad as some think – it won’t kill you – then you’d better be gathered around the Lord’s gifts so that when you are called to die (because one day you will), then you will die faithfully in Christ.
When our final breaths come, it won’t matter how long you lived, or what you accomplished. What will matter, is your faith.
Are you prepared to die in Christ or not?
It grieves my heart to know that there is still a handful of people who are choking out their faith, refusing to receive our Lord’s gifts. I am reminded of Jesus’ pointed question and statement in Luke 18, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”
Faith comes from hearing the Word of God.
Faith is nourished from life until death, in the receiving of Christ’s body and blood – His precious gift of Holy Communion, which strengthens and preserves His people in faith, until life everlasting.
This precious gift of His body and blood emboldens His people to live and faith towards Him and in fervent love towards one another.
God’s people unite around His gifts. It’s the very definition of Church – the people of God who are gathered around God’s Word and Sacraments! Creedal churches confess each week that we believe in the community of saints – a fellowship of believers who gather around Christ’s gifts. The church then is the fellowship of believers who have not shut their ears to the Holy Spirit’s call, to come and receive Jesus, and so they come.
Christ’s gifts are at His altar waiting for you.
No plague, no pandemic, no sickness, or death will keep them from being delivered to you by faithful under-shepherds of Christ.
As long as God’s people hunger and thirst for His gifts of everlasting life, His people can make it through anything.
“I was glad when they said to me, “Let’s go to the house of the Lord.” (Ps. 122:1)