We are relational creatures.
Distancing is hard because, we are social creatures… we’re inherently relational. We were made for relationship, to be close to each other, to form tribes and clubs and interest groups. That’s why we like to congregate to cheer for sports teams, for schools, and for our country during the Olympics. It’s even why we divide from each other – when we separate from people who are different from us, it’s often from a desire to be around people we find commonality with.
As Christians, our creation story is grounded in a relationship between God and his first humans. Tragically, this breaks when the first people fall into sin (Genesis 2-3). The centerpiece of our faith is about a God who comes to earth to reconcile that relationship.
A time like becomes tremendously difficult because we’re supposed to be in relationship. While we believe these actions are for the safety and health of everyone, it still feels as though we’re all scattered about… unable to connect and bond with each other.
I am reminded of the epistle of 1 Peter. The beginning of that letter includes this greeting: “to God’s elect, exiles scatteredthroughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Capadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…” Peter uses this word “scattered” a word that we can all relate to in this time of pandemic. This epistle is written when early Christians were experiencing social ostracism because of their faith. “Scattered” or diaspora in the Greek, is the same word used to describe Jews who were separated from their homeland. Here, Peter uses it here to describe what it must have felt like to be a Christian in Asia Minor – someone who was lonely – separated from their home and family.
We can all relate to that feeling these days.
Last week, I was feeling a little “out of sorts” one night. My first reaction was paranoia that I had contracted the coronavirus! When I mentioned it to my wife, she was concerned but made me finish my dishwashing duties before I took a nap. To my relief, the feeling that I was getting sick disappeared! As I began to wonder what had caused this initial sense of illness, I realized that I had a very emotional day. Irene, a wonderful leader in our church had passed away after a long battle with cancer. She held a special place in my heart – in my younger years, I was youth pastor to all her children, and had served with her on numerous occasions. My heart was aching over her loss. It was then I realized that my body was grieving.
As I reflected on my grief, I realized that we’re all grieving right now. As we settle into a new rhythm of life in this “safer at home” order from the Health officer from the County, we have had our lives turned upside down (and shaken all around). What was once a fast-paced, car-driven city has become an unhurried, local neighborhood of homebodies. This is a gargantuan change, and for many of us – we are grieving our old way of life. We cannot go out. We cannot meet friends. We are experiencing a physical break in multiple relationships all at the same time! And perhaps most tragically, we cannot grieve together. No hugs. No holding hands. No crying on shoulders.
We’re being broken.
The season of Lent is a time to mourn and grieve over the ways our lives and our world are damaged and scarred by sin and pain. Each week we seek to lament theses aspects of our world – not seeking answers – but taking one step closer to the cross of Jesus Christ. This week, as we reflect upon our Lenten Psalm (51), the words from David take on new meaning as it speaks to the language of pandemic. Read Psalm 51:5-12. As you hear the concepts of mother and child, cleansing and washing, and being cast away, may these words vocalize the lament and grief you feel this day. May your longing for family, for cleansing, and for presence be rooted in these ancient words as you offer them prayerfully to God.
A last benediction.
The text of 1 Peter reveals that these Christians in the diaspora are experiencing grief and hardship. Peter writes to encourage them and remind them of this: they have faith in someone they do not see. This week, it may be hard to see a lot of things – friends, family, hope, or even God in all this pandemonium. My prayer for you is the same reminder Peter gives to the scattered church in Asia minor – even as we are broken apart, the God we cannot see continues to be with us.