‘Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.’
So reflects Dr Rieux, the narrator and central character of Albert Camus’ novel The Plague. If I had read these words in February, they would have made little impact, reading them a few weeks later made a world of difference!
Dr Rieux was right. We expect life to go on as normal and then suddenly all that we thought of as normal is taken away from us and we face a very different ‘normal’, where you can’t just casually pop out to the shops or visit the cinema or see friends for a coffee. However, none of that changes the purpose of the church.
As a fellowship we have often reflected on the picture of the early church that we find in Acts 2:42–47.
Adoration was central to the life of the early church – they shared communion and prayed and praised God. At this time, we are learning to worship together even when we are physically apart. In some ways, courtesy of modern technology, this has been quite straightforward and every Sunday since lockdown we have been able to share in an act of worship. Some have even commented on a growing degree of sophistication and participation and we will seek to build on that in the weeks ahead.
Another feature of the early Christians was a great sense of belonging. Theirs was no ‘billiard ball Christianity’ where people just clicked against one another on a Sunday morning and then settled back into their pockets for another week until it all began again. Luke tells us those early Christians devoted themselves to fellowship and met daily, which is obviously a bit tricky at the moment. However, Life Groups have met via social media platforms and the church office and pastoral team have worked tirelessly to keep people connected with new initiatives like the daily email bulletin. Nevertheless, not everyone is digitally connected and we will have to work hard to make sure that everyone feels they belong.
Belonging and caring are closely linked. When it comes to our emotions, if we don’t feel we belong, we won’t feel cared for. But caring for others is more than feelings, it’s practical. Those early believers sold their property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. So, we have tried to meet practical needs within the community and beyond, making sure that people have food and other essentials, and that is something we will need to continue to do.
We are also told that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. This is discipleship. Maybe we have extra time to read or study or pray more. But we must remember that discipleship is not just theoretical learning but learning a way of life as an apprentice, putting faith into action.
Finally, we are told that those early Christians ‘enjoyed the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily.’ The passage doesn’t emphasise evangelism in the sense of reaching out, people just saw there was something different and wanted to find out.
Opportunities for ‘normal’ evangelism are limited – we can’t invite anyone to a service or quiz night. However, we can tell people of the difference the church makes to our lives and the hope that we have in Jesus.
Last year our verse was Ephesians 3:20, how God ‘is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.’ And that is true. This is a time of challenge but also of opportunity. We might be on lockdown but the Holy Spirit is not!