“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:32-34)
Could you imagine a Sunday where Christians would not gather in their church buildings to conduct their church services? I certainly couldn’t, unless we found our government overthrown and some sort of totalitarian state padlocking the doors. I never pictured a virus being the impetus.
Yet here we are. Christ followers are not gathering by the hundreds, thousands or even millions across large portions of the planet. This last week I was asked the question, “Why are we doing this?” It was not a criticism of the decision we made, but came from a person genuinely wanting to understand.
Against this backdrop, let’s go back to Holy Tuesday. Another Pharisee steps forward with a question for Jesus. He has been observing his deft handling of the loaded questions thrown at him, and instead he decides to ask the number one question often asked and commented on in that day. “What is the greatest commandment?” With so many to choose from, which is the most important.
In response to Jesus’ answer to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love neighbor as oneself, the Pharisee reaffirms Jesus’ reply and even adds to love God and neighbor in this way, as more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices. It is Jesus’ turn to reaffirm and go a step further by announcing, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
My answer to the kind woman who asked the “Why” question, was to emphasize the love behind our decision to honor the directive to forego assembling in groups over ten. This was not about fear but love. If our gathering together posed a serious health threat to those who have weakened immune systems, then the loving thing was to suspend face to face worship and go online until such time it is safe to resume.
Although getting together on the internet cannot replace the incarnational (in the flesh) nature of being church together, it is also not allowing isolation to replace community as the new norm. We are blessed to use current technologies to remain connected to each other and even more beyond those typical church doors.
Even online, we are not far from the kingdom of God, because the God who so loved the world, and sent his only son to give us life, is the same God who is in each and every home, apartment and condo. Gathering together in these virtual communities is simply a broader understanding of Jesus’ promise, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20).
“I lift my eyes unto the Hills …” – Psalm 121:1