What is the First Commandment? You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
When the pandemic started approximately 18 months ago, there was a great deal of uncertainty about what we were facing. From the beginning, we did our best as a congregation to obey government mandates while still faithfully proclaiming the Word of God and celebrating Holy Communion in our 10 people or fewer divine services.
Now we have a much better idea of what COVID is
and is not. We know that we can assemble safely by taking some basic precautions and ventilation measures, by getting vaccinated if we choose, by spreading out in the pews, and by asking people with cold and flu symptoms to stay home. By the grace of God, our congregation has had
ZERO transmission of the virus in divine service.
That doesn’t mean that there is no future risk in coming to church—just as there is always risk every time you get in your car and drive to work or to the store. But it does raise the question that we all should ask, especially those who are still staying away from divine service: What do you fear more, God or COVID? Are you more concerned about the power of death or the Lord of life? Crisis events like these have a way of revealing our gods, the people and things we love and trust in more than the true God. Whatever it is that is keeping you away from the Lord’s preaching and the Lord’s supper—even if it’s something good of itself—that thing is an idol in your life, and you must learn to recognize it as such. If you fear losing health or loved ones or money or anything else more than you fear losing communion with God, you are not fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things.
Of course, the response to this usually is that we can pray to God privately and read the Bible privately, etc. True enough. But the Christian faith is not merely a private thing; it is the communion of saints, those who together form the Body of Christ. The Christian faith is not merely an individual and spiritual thing; it is a communal, physical, and bodily thing. It involves the preaching of the Word out loud into your ears. For faith comes by hearing the proclaiming of the Word of God (Romans 10:17). It involves receiving into your mouths the true and literal body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:26-28). It involves teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord, letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly. (Colossians 3:16). These things cannot be done alone. “Where two or three are gathered…” (Matthew 18:20). That’s why it is written, “Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Last Day approaching (Hebrews 10:25), the day of our bodily resurrection. If we can be kept away from church because of the real but minimal threat of a virus, what are we going to do when we face actual persecution and more significant threats to ourselves and our families in this ungodly world?
I urge and exhort all of you, then, to return to the Lord Jesus and the weekly receiving of His gifts in divine service. For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Joel 2:13). If you’ve been away for a while and feel funny about coming back, know that you will be received with open arms and glad hearts. The Lord’s invitation is still in full force, “Come, for all things are now ready!” (Luke 14:17-18). And if you are unable to make it to church for whatever reason, I will be glad to come to you to have a devotional service of Holy Communion. There is no reason to be cut off from the Lord’s goodness in His Word and Sacraments. “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).