March 8 was the last time we were all  together for worship in our building. For over two months we’ve been worshiping from home, all gathered around a computer, tv screen, or phone. I don’t think any of us had any idea, on March 8, of the changes we’d experience. I remember there being a lot of talk in the news about COVID-19, but no real changes had taken place yet. I remember having the thought, “Should I be shaking hands?,” but I didn’t think anything was serious enough to act upon. Now, that time seems almost quaint with all the changes since then. The following week, Ball State went to online-only learning, and it wasn’t long after that when Muncie schools went to online learning, too. We went to online worship for March 15, and, since then, we haven’t been back together in one room, but we’ve been worshiping together from our homes while we’re doing our online worship.

As I’ve listened and discussed with leaders from other churches, an idea has probably been at the center of our conversation: “How do we get back to March 8?” How do we get back to that March 8 reality, where we’re all together, worshiping as normal in our building? That’s been the focus of so much thought among people who lead churches. I understand that desire; our being physically together and worshiping in our building has been the focus of church life, and it’s right and normal to want to have that back.

I wonder, though, if the question before us shouldn’t be “How do we go back?,” but “How is God leading us forward?” It’s helpful for me to know God’s people have gone through things like this before. When the people were brought out of slavery in the Exodus, once they left the familiarity of life in Egypt, they started wishing they could go back to their past life in Egypt. During the Babylonian exile, the people were taken away from their homes and the worship life of the temple in Jerusalem. They had to remake their faith and worship in light of their living in Babylon. That time of exile became one of the most vibrant periods of faith for ancient Israel. What is maybe my favorite section of scripture, Isaiah 40-66, comes out of that time where they had to renew their faith in their new situation. Their loss of their old worship life led to a beautiful renewal of their faith in God!

I believe this is a time of bad news and good news. The bad news is the challenges presented to us by COVID-19 will be with us for a while. And even while we are trying to figure out how to safely and faithfully return to worship in our building, worship won’t look like March 8. That’s the bad news. Here is the good news: God is still with us, and God isn’t through with our world. God’s people have been through things like this before, where they’d had to renew their faith under new and challenging circumstances. And so the question for us is not how we can turn the clock back to March 8, but how is God leading us in faithfulness, creativity, and renewal in this new season we’re in? This could be a period where we look back and see it as a powerful experience of renewed faith. It’s so tempting to look back, like the Israelites looking back to their old life of slavery in Egypt. Maybe, though, God isn’t leading us to look back, but to look forward with boldness and faith.

Grace & peace,

Jason Jones