‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ according to the popular proverb. While this is often true, so is the opposite – ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’ In response to the Covid-19 pandemic churches cancelled in person worship services. Many have only recently begun to meet in person again. Some have yet to do so. It is worth asking which proverb will prove true: have we missed worship, or have we easily forgotten it? Four things about worship should shape our lives our as we think through Covid-19 and worship.
… for worship in the first place. Why does the church meet Sunday by Sunday to sing praise to God, hear his Word preached, receive the sacraments, pray, and gather for fellowship? Whatever our response to this pandemic it is worth going back to basics and reminding ourselves of the biblical command and apostolic pattern of worship.
Scriptures like Psalm 92, Acts 2:42-47, and Hebrews 10:19-25 have informed the church throughout history. Worship on the first day of the week (the day when Christ rose from the dead and triumphed over death, hell, the devil, and sin), has been the obedient pattern of the church for millenia.
We gather for worship Sunday by Sunday simply because God has told us to. More, he has promised to be with us when we do, and bless us through his Word. Our hearts will never ‘grow fonder’ of worship, regardless of pandemics, unless we have a secure understanding of the reason for worship in the first place.
… of cancelled worship for many. Perhaps the church in the West has become complacent about our freedom to worship without fear or difficulty. Perhaps worse, we have begun to take for granted the simple blessing of gathering with the saints around God’s Word in the presence of our Saviour. The reality is that for many Christians around the world worship is a luxury. Cancelled services and disrupted worship patterns are the norm, not the exception.
For the persecuted church corporate worship raises the question of whether or not they will be attacked, lose life and limbs, or see loved ones killed. Many others have to survive without the blessing of the gathering of the saints for worship for months, even years, as they are imprisoned, isolated, or simply live in fear of their lives. At the very least this pandemic should help us appreciate the reality of life for many of our brothers and sisters around the world.
… of not returning to worship. There is a real danger that the last several months of online Sunday mornings and relaxed Sabbath evenings will have formed new and unhelpful habits in us. Watching ‘live-streamed’ services from the comfort of our own homes may seem more appealing than the hassle of making it to an actual church service.
This period of enforced ‘social distancing’ could easily result in a neglect of the gathered worship of the saints when normality returns. Let’s resolve that it won’t, which leads us to the final point…
… to prioritise worship. The net response to this pandemic should be this – a resolve to make worship a priority during and after this pandemic. As and when we can meet for in person worship in our churches, let us all resolve to do so with a renewed eagerness, enthusiasm, and commitment.
May it be true that the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing cancellation of, and difficulties in re-starting gathered worship services, causes the evangelical church to ‘grow fonder’ of worship, and not less!
Andy Young Minister of Oxford Evangelical Presbyterian Church.