[Editor’s note: Please read this article in its entirety. It is intended as equal parts salt and grace. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it. Love ya!-JS]
“go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”-Luke 5:14
Our world changed 18-months ago in ways none of us could have predicted. As of this writing 736,000 Americans are dead because of COVID-19. Undoubtedly more would have died had so many people not taken extreme health measures to stop the spread of the virus. We learned to live with masks, vaccines, shut downs, drive-thru only restaurants, and pondered life without toilet tissue. For a time, we met online-only, then just on Sunday mornings, and now we are almost back to normal. So what remains? It is time to show ourselves to the priest and get back to the house of God.
In March of 2020, I presented a sermon entitled Does The Leper Forsake? Many of us were concerned about the idea of cancelling services for any reason. The lesson (linked at the bottom) pointed out the fact, if someone has a highly contagious disease that is a biblical reason to remain isolated. In fact, the Law of Moses commanded someone with leprosy not to assemble with others, “He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”-Leviticus 13:46. Here is a biblical example of someone with a highly contagious disease not being allowed to worship God in the camp, much less at the temple. I believe it is parallel to what was being considered concerning in-person worship.
As long as we did not forsake assembling during our periods of worship via the internet, we were both potentially saving lives and following the example of Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread.” Like the Leper, we were not forsaking the assembly.
But what happens when the leprosy is gone? The verse from the gospel of Luke at the top of the page gives us an example. Jesus healed a man of leprosy and his instructions follow the Law of Moses. When Jesus says, “show yourself to the priest” he is condensing 32-verses from Leviticus chapter 14. In those verses a detailed process of testing, sacrifice, shaving, bathing, blood, and oil leads to these words, “and he shall be clean.”-Leviticus 14:20. Once the contagious disease was gone, it was time to return to normal life and worship with the family of God. The healed leper who remains outside the camp does forsake. This brings me to a couple of points.
My Fear: Three years ago, would I ever have thought, “I’ll just watch worship online?” What would I have thought of myself? My fear is our crutch has become our staff. Before COVID, our family would seek out a local church when we were on vacation and assemble with the saints. How blessed have we been by traveling Christians’ attendance? For a time, we would assemble, sing, pray, partake, and give online when we were out of town. Now that our activities are close to normal, we attend with God’s people!
This is what I fear. Instead of making the time, am I allowing worldly things to keep me from the assembly because, “Oh, I’ll just check in online.” This sprinkle of salt leads to a dollop of grace.
My Hope: The delicate part of this discussion is identifying who still has leprosy. We have saints who assemble with us via Facebook Live who are completely home bound or whose local congregation is not meeting and online worship is their only option. We are so honored to be of Christian service as we worship online with you. There may be Christians who have the virus, are under quarantine, or have pre-existing health issues that make a return to in-person worship a life-threatening event. If you have fever, intestinal distress; we didn’t expect you to come infect us three years ago and nothing has changed! For Christians in these groups, they still have leprosy (if I haven’t tortured this metaphor enough already). We are thrilled technology allows us into your home and you into the auditorium for services.
I comes down to this. For our members who are still in “shut-down mode” in the rest of your affairs, only you can say when you are ready to return. But if someone is participating normally and without a mask in every aspect of life (work, store, restaurant, sporting events, etc.), yet somehow worship remains something that can only be done online; may I humbly suggest a visit to the priest may be in order.
May God grant us a spirit of hope and not fear.