What an odd time it is for churches. Our routine practices have been suspended, while our suspicions, anxiety, paranoia, and fear reach unprecedented proportions. As vanguard tulips poke their courageous leaves through the Michigan winter soil, an insidious coronavirus threatens our ability to gather, a central Christian practice at The Colossian Forum. We may not be able to gather for our daily 9 a.m. prayer practice in person, but as you can see in this picture, we did our best this morning and will continue to pray together via video chat!
The interruption in our routines – our rituals – is unsettling. Even though the tulips will still blossom in their time, it feels like nature itself has been disrupted – families postponing spring break trips, St. Patrick’s Day socially distanced, and even Easter worship services up in the air! Widespread uncertainty and decisions about the best response to the crisis are causing tension in many circles. It is easy to become overwhelmed in these tumultuous times.
But this is also a witnessing time—a time to show who we are as Christians and what we are made of. At The Colossian Forum, we are fond of saying “conflict is an opportunity for spiritual growth and witness.” Through The Colossian Way small groups, we help Christians prepare for conflicts and difficult, anxious times, and we work and witness in the midst of these conflicts by remembering who we are in Christ. We practice loving one another and God as we lean into whatever challenge we face together.
After all, conflicts arise from collisions between our fears and loves. Our fears disrupt, distract, confuse, and subvert our attempts to love God and one another. That’s what makes the faithful commitment to love—along with Christian practices like continued prayer and worship—so difficult. Fear is loud, it comes naturally, it demands our attention, and it will dictate our actions if we let it.
The Colossian Way aims at three goals: gather Christians together, practice loving God and one another while engaging a difficult challenge, and witness the body of Christ built up. In this particular moment, we may have to innovate on the “gather” piece—as Christians have for centuries before us under other forms of separation. But we can still practice and witness.
Practicing love for God and one another while engaging this pandemic challenge illuminates places where we can exercise all of our Christian muscles. Phone calls to those who are shut-in, food deliveries, and school lunch program and financial donations all seem like low-hanging spiritual fruit for us. And social isolation gives us a wonderful opportunity to continue personal practices that foster spiritual growth and equip us to embody the hope and light that so many need right now.
Discipleship is about living faithful lives right in the middle of all those fears, even the most daunting ones. That’s where the cross stands—in the middle of crushing fears. We are, after all, followers of Jesus, and we are infused with his very character. We are called to the way of the cross—to a life of faithful love amid fear.
Perhaps the coronavirus threat happening during Lent is fortuitous. It gives us the opportunity to practice living the way Jesus did, not despite our conflicts, but thanks to them. This is precisely the best time to follow him into this “passionate” moment, in which a worldwide disease is threatening to sicken and kill many and drive us apart in the process. For in this odd time of pandemic worry, Holy Week has not been canceled! We can still move through the acclamation of Palm/Passion Sunday to the acrimony of Good Friday, and in so moving, confess how easy it is to fall asleep, away, and into denial in the face of powerful forces that threaten our lives.
Let us leave you with a challenge. At the end of every Colossian Way session, we offer to one another and to God words of praise, lament, and hope. Realizing that every gathering is incomplete until we’re in the Kingdom of God, we lift up any words of praise for what we see in ourselves and the world, words of lament for what is wrong or missing, and words of hope for God to bring renewal. As you go about these days, we invite you to join us and offer your own words of praise, lament, and hope. Please email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or share them on social media using #TCFpraise, #TCFlament, or #TCFhope.
And let us remember that Jesus is faithful, that God raised him from the dead, and that we are witnesses of these things by the Holy Spirit’s power. This may be an odd time for us and presents a challenge to who we know we are (Christ’s) and what we have to offer a world consumed by tension, fear, and worry. It is also a shining moment for us to model a faithful pathway through this moment and to live into the words of Hebrews 12:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.