When community becomes a distant concept
Rachael Chong // March 25, 2020, 5:54 pm
Not too long ago, we wouldn’t think twice as we walked into our church service hall, conveniently plonking ourselves down in the seat adjacent to a friend, acquaintance or newcomer.
There was seldom the concern about leaving a seat vacant, which would have been quite socially inappropriate. But social dynamics took a different turn last Sunday, as distancing measures owing to the COVID-19 crisis kicked in at my church.
All of a sudden, it became socially appropriate – and responsible – to sit one seat apart from our neighbours. One arm’s length was the standard.
And so intimacy officially became a luxury. We couldn’t afford the consequences of being near each other.
Fast forward a week, and it seems community transmission has become a real possibility – everyone has been urged to keep themselves within the four walls of their homes.
In times like this when community life feels threatened and gathering is almost taboo, it’s so easy to lose heart and hope, and lament the loss of community.
But I remember the words of my Senior Pastor during my church’s first livestream service: “Though we cannot gather in church today, we can still gather as His Church, as a body of Christ. And I rejoice. I rejoice in the truth that the Apostle Paul declares in Ephesians 2:19-22.”
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
We are members of God’s family, built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.
It is in this body of Christ, this holy temple of the Lord, that He dwells. Our faith in Jesus joins us together as fellow citizens, more than physical proximity does.
The Church is therefore more than the physical building and undeterred by physical boundaries. For now, barriers and measures may be drawn to keep one believer apart from another, but we can still worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).
Our faith in Jesus joins us together as fellow citizens, more than physical proximity does.
Praise the Lord that we are like living stones being built into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5)! Our togetherness is marked not by being physically close to one another, but by uniting our hearts and minds in praise of our God.
Though no singing comes from our lips, our souls can still rise as we praise God.
“When sufferings cease and sorrows die,
And every longing satisfied,
Then joy unspeakable will flood my soul,
For I am truly home.”
And so, comforted, I worship in the solitude of my room – but how much it amplifies my longing to be in the presence of His people!
With this call to stay indoors and refrain from meeting, the temptation is to retreat into isolation. Social distancing may be the rule of the day, but it need not have the last say.
Our call to Christian fellowship remains in Hebrews 10:24-25.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
If the Church is where the hearts of believers unite regardless of time and space, then Christian fellowship exists beyond the confines of a Bible study, small group or prayer meeting.
We can take our fellowship online in the forms of texts, voice calls and video calls. What seems to have drawn us away from real-life connections might now come in useful to bridge these physical gaps.
Could we consider using these alternative methods of communicating God’s truth more intentionally?
Send a text with a verse to encourage a brother, say a prayer over a voice call, or read and study the Bible together over a video call from the comfort of your room.
We may miss the perks of a warm embrace or pure companionship, but we can bear with virtual connectivity and some of its inconveniences for now as we adapt to the restrictions on gathering.
We can keep in step with each other, encourage and build one another up, and not give up speaking the truths of His word via other means. Community that is rooted in Christ and intimacy that is fuelled by truth is what will outlast our social distance.
May we not see our physical distance as a reason to go into a spiritual hiatus or sink into spiritual despair, but creative opportunities to reach out and bridge the gaps, all the more as we see the Day approaching.
THINK + TALK
- What does fellowship mean to you?
- What are some examples of fellowship in the Bible?
- Thinking digitally, how else can you stay in touch with fellow believers?