There is an old heresy that has circled around again and again since the beginning of Christianity.
It is the lie that creation, the physical world, is bad or, at best, unimportant. The spiritual alone is what truly matters.
I have seen this creeping into the Church in recent years (The Western Church, that is. I will not presume to speak about the global Church).
What we do with our bodies during worship is not important.
Being physically together is nice, but it doesn’t matter in the larger scope of things.
Watching church online is just as good as being in a building.
I confess that as an introvert, I find the draw of church online to be alluring. It is a lot less messy when you don’t have to face so many people.
I do know, however, that the Church is a sacrament, a place where the spiritual reality of God becomes embodied in the physical world.
The whole of creation was originally intended to fulfill this role, created to bring man into relationship with God. The physical world would make the spiritual reality of God known to man; man would take the physical world into his body and live out the life of God to the world.
All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. ~ Alexander Schmemann
But then man chose to hunger for the world instead of God, to live the life of the world rather than the life of God, and the circle was broken.
The circle remained broken until Jesus came and once again offered up the embodied life of God for man.
Now the Church has become the means through which the spiritual reality of God enters the material reality of the world. There is no longer any need for temples or sacred places, for Christ’s Body, the Church, embodies the life of God to the world.
The Church now finds herself in the middle of a pandemic. We are sheltering in place and are unable to be together physically. Ever.
When you are not allowed to have physical contact with anyone, suddenly being together seems much more important.
It makes me wonder whether one way in which God will bless this time for our good, as he promised he would, might be to show us how essential it is to meet together in an embodied way.
Technology is a good and helpful tool, but that is all it is or should ever be. A tool. A substitute. We are embodied creatures and as such need embodied interactions.
C. S. Lewis used the metaphor of eating tinned fruit when writing about mistaking something necessary for what is best. Tinned fruit will feed and sustain you when there is a famine, when you cannot visit the orchard, yet the fruit loses much of its flavor and goodness in the process of being tinned.
In this season of shelter-in-place, we are being fed and sustained by our online communications, and our souls are grateful for it, but deep down we hunger for incarnate communion.
There is, of course, the opposite danger in being sustained only by virtual fellowship, and that is that we might acquire a taste for it. This we must absolutely guard against.
But do not let us mistake necessary evils for good. The mistake is easily made. Fruit has to be tinned if it is to be transported and has to lose thereby some of its good qualities. But one meets people who have actually learned to prefer the tinned fruit to the fresh. ~ C. S. Lewis
May we, the Church, in this time of being bodily separated, begin to understand and truly believe in the goodness of creation and the importance of our physical bodies.
May we continue to hunger for the fresh fruit of embodied fellowship rather than being satiated with tinned communication in the virtual world.
When this is over, may we recognize our incarnate communion for what it is – undeserved gift.
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