BY THE REV. JOHN JACKMAN |
It is hard to know what to write these days. Our whole world, our expectations, our hopes, our plans, have been upset like the tables of the moneychangers in the temple. Like those profitable businessmen of yore that we read about in church at the start of Holy Week, we are scrambling to save the coins before they roll into the drain, and to catch the unblemished sacrifice livestock before all the doves fly away and the lambs run off.
Many people are fearful – afraid of the invisible enemy, the virus, afraid of the plunging stock market, wondering where the rent check is coming from and how they will pay their employees. These fears are real and they are legitimate. Pastors of churches that were already struggling fear that their congregation may be closed by the crisis – not just for the time being, but forever.
I heard an interview the other day that really resonated with me. It was an entrepreneurial restauranteur whose business story included surviving a flood, a tornado, and now COVID-19. She said, “I allow myself one pity party. But then we have to get cracking, there is a lot of work to be done.” When I heard her comment, I immediately thought that the same words might have come from many of our forebears’ mouths. I thought of Comenius, who lost his children and his wife to the Black Plague, who later led the remnant out to exile, praying for the “Hidden Seed.” I thought of some of those courageous early missionaries, leaving home, some early ones thinking they might have to sell themselves into slavery, others knowing that they would almost certainly die in the mission field.
Count Zinzendorf, like many nobles of his day, was wealthy in land and buildings but was often quite cash-poor. He borrowed extravagantly to finance some of those early missions. But those were days before bankruptcy protection, when even high nobility would be sent to debtor’s prison if they could not pay back a debt. In 1753, while living in London at Lindsey House, a number of setbacks caused creditors to call in several very large loans. There was no way that the Count or the Moravian leadership could meet even a tiny portion of the debt. He was informed that the officials would come to take him to prison that afternoon. Zinzendorf prayed about it, and then calmly went to take a nap. Just before the arrest warrant was to be executed, a bill of exchange was delivered from a supporter in Holland – and they were able to refinance the debt.
We today are not really used to hardship. Not pointing a finger at anyone else! I’ve been through some real life crises, but through it all I’m acutely aware that what I regard as “hardship” is just a minor inconvenience compared to what many of our forebears experienced. And as Paul pointed out, my suffering is nothing next to the sufferings of Christ, and the astonishing grace that comes from the Savior:
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ.-Philippians 3:7-9 NRSV
Our churches are not used to real hardship either, at least not in living memory – not when compared to what the Christian Church in general and Moravians in particular have survived historically. We’re pretty much used to having it easy here in the US, with meeting the budget being the hardest hurdle, and a crisis is arguing about the recipe for lovefeast coffee or the color of the carpet.
Our forebears were far more used to hardship than we are. This is certainly the biggest crisis in most of our lives, but it is by no means unique or unparalleled. Nor do we have to go far back to find comparable stories. My tiny English grandmother, who lived through the Japanese occupation of Korea, WWI, the Spanish Flu, the Depression, the Dust Bowl, and WWII, would tell us to stiffen up and get to work — do what needs to be done.
It’s OK to feel fearful and to feel grief over what we have lost, and to feel anxiety over what the future will bring. In fact, I think it would be healthy for us to address the grief we are feeling in our worship and prayer lives. But the words of that restaurant owner come back to me: “I allow myself one pity party. But then we have to get cracking, there is a lot of work to be done.”
It’s easy to get stuck on the grief, trapped in the fear and apprehension, and miss the opportunity that this crisis presents to us. Do not forget that God is at work in the midst of this, and we have no idea yet what is taking shape. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43:19 ESV. The COVID-19 crisis has catapulted the church into a future it was mostly unprepared for, and I look forward to see what “new normal” emerges, filled with new energy and purpose and the possibility of reaching people who would never have darkened the door of our church previously. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” – Romans 8:18-19 NRSV
The Moravian Church has “died” numerous times – but as long as the Savior has need of her, and faithful believers will respond to the call, the Moravian Church will continue to serve in our unique role. I pray that we together will be able to get cracking – there’s a lot of work to do!
About the Author
The Rev. John Jackman is pastor of Trinity Moravian Church in Winston-Salem. A filmmaker and author, he lives in Lewisville with his wife, his daughter, six ducks, and two cats.