What strange days we find ourselves in right now. The news from all over is ever more concerning. Cases of COVID-19 have appeared in two schools near my home and a friend for the university was exposed to it at their internship. I started to prepare a couple weeks ago by buying paper goods, hand soap, Tylenol, and cold medicines. Still, I was profoundly shocked to walk into the grocery store Thursday afternoon, right after the announcement that schools were to be closed indefinitely, to see the meat case nearly empty. Saturday, I was able to go early in the morning to get meat but the vast array of produce I’m used to so casually picking through was mostly empty. Instead of rows upon rows of colorful fruits and vegetables, there were only empty black bins. It struck me in that moment how spoiled I have always been. I’ve never in my lifetime walked into a store and not been able to buy everything I need for several days worth of complete meals to feed five of us. I have never before seen entire grocery store aisles empty – totally and completely empty – of bread, eggs, milk, juice, meat, frozen vegetables, and fresh produce. In any other time, I’d probably crack jokes: hashtag first world problems, hashtag toilet paper famine, hashtag where’s the beef. But this isn’t like anything I’ve ever faced before and, for once, my dark gallows humor is failing to keep up.
Then the churches started to close.
I have watched and talked on social media over this past week with many of my clergy friends who agonized over whether it was enough to warn those considered vulnerable to stay home or whether they should cancel services altogether. How do we share the peace? How do we share in communion? How do we keep people safe? How do we best minister to anxious people in this frightening time of crisis? In some cases, bishops made the call for them but many others had to make the best decision they could for their own congregation. Many decided that, for right now, love looks like an empty church.
This morning, I scrolled through social media and I saw church after church after church had found ways on very short notice to connect via livestreams, recorded videos, posted reflections and emails. Pastors preached to empty churches. Organists and musicians played on without their choirs. People shared links to services and reflections from all over the country, across all denominational lines. And there, my friends, is the Body of Christ in action. Right here, right now. Maybe we’ve gathered a little differently this Sunday, but make no mistake, we are still church and Jesus is in our midst. There is no shortage here. There are no empty shelves. There is no worry about what will be restocked or when. There are no quantity limits.
It can be easy to fall into a routine of receiving communion every week in the same way that we pick up groceries. I got the grace I need to get through the week. I can come back next week and do it again. But here’s the thing, Jesus is so much bigger than that. The gift of our Lord that we receive so blithely, so routinely is so far beyond anything we can ever hope to understand. The grace given to us in the sacrament is boundless, infinite, and endless. The grace we receive never runs out. So no matter how long we have to wait to receive communion again, Jesus does not leave us wanting.
For now, let us keep finding new ways to connect safely and let us hold fast to promise of Jesus in the Eucharist.
And may God hold you in the palm of his hand, until we meet again.
Saint James grads, I know y’all sang that last line.
Hashtag we are church.