In some small way, I think that the pandemic feels like a "diaspora" of a sort. We feel scattered, or at least disconnected, from the communal relationships that define us. Nowhere has this been more evident than in church.
When the people of Israel were conquered by the Assyrians, and then Judah was conquered by the Babylonians, the people became scattered all over the place. This is often called the “diaspora.” Even though some Jews returned to the ruins of Jerusalem, even though Israel is a nation once again, a vast number of Jews are still scattered throughout the world. “Diaspora” is also used to describe the scattering of African peoples throughout Europe and North America through the evil of slavery.
In some small way, I think that the pandemic feels like a diaspora of a sort. We feel scattered, or at least disconnected, from the communal relationships that define us. Nowhere has this been more evident than in church. By definition the Church is a gathering of people. “The church is the assembly of the saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly.” (Augsburg Confession VII).
During the pandemic, “assembly” has been a fluid term as we have, at times, stopped gathering and still restrict gathering for health reasons. What does “assembly” or “gathering” mean when it we use virtual means to connect? I’m still not sure of the answer. We’re experiencing a kind of diaspora. Being apart creates anxiety, grief, a sense of loss.
Fear that our congregation, our church family, our connection to people of faith is somehow disappearing the longer we don’t see each other is palpable. Can a congregation still be what we need it to be, what God wants it to be, when the pews are partially filled, people feel safer at home, our plans are always contingent upon the ever-changing march of disease?
Perhaps the Spirit is teaching us something new in all this. Perhaps the Spirit – the true life-giving force of the church – is redefining what it means to gather and assemble and we’re just trying to catch up. As our Minister for Communications, Kristi O’Connor pointed out recently, we are in fact, connecting with each other in significant ways:
I would add that new members are becoming part of the congregation, baptisms are happening, marriages have taken place, pastoral care is happening. The members of the congregation have continued to give – nearly a million dollars over the last year.
In the 6th chapter of John, Jesus says: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me.” (John 6:39). We may feel like we’re getting lost, disconnected, scattered because of the pandemic. Hear Jesus – he loses nothing and no one. You are part of his beloved community no matter what forces conspire to make us feel those fears. The beloved community is connected by the power of the Spirit not by our ability to make community happen. The beloved community of Christ is a community even as it is dispersed. Ask our Jewish siblings, or our African neighbors.
Pax Christi, Tim Olson – Lead Pastor