Paul and COVID

I love Sundays. I love the anticipation that starts on Saturday night when all my children bathe and lay out their clothes before they go to sleep. I love seeing friends we haven’t seen all week and how much my church family enjoys each other. I love the liturgy of worship and hearing God’s word proclaimed. I love taking the Lord’s supper, celebrating baptisms, and praying corporately. Maybe most of all, I love singing with my church family—being ministered to by the unison of the voices of my covenanted faith family. 

            The corporate gathering with the church is a means of grace. It provides rest for our souls as we are part of the corporate discipleship that happens. God designed the gathering of the church to provide corporate edification as we build one another up to grow and thrive in our faith. As I grow alongside my church family, we encourage each other to persevere in the faith and strengthen one another. When I am hurting, corporate worship is a balm to my spirit, reminding me of God’s steadfastness and care. 

            And right now, I am missing it. For the sixth week in a row, Sunday came and went, and we weren’t with our church family. My pastors have worked hard to provide us with ways to connect during this period of quarantine due to the spread and danger of COVID-19. We are grateful to be able to stream sermons from our pastor and songs from our worship team. But my whole family knows it’s not the same. Our singing as a family of 6 is missing all of the voices of saints we normally worship with. My girls aren’t chasing and laughing at babies before and after worship. My son isn’t helping men set up. There are no hugs from friends. There are no visitors to meet and welcome. On this Lord’s Day, we’re aching for our church but are at staying at home. 

            I read through Paul’s epistles recently and was struck by how much empathy he might have had for us during this time. His circumstances were not the same, but he knew the deep longing to be with his brothers and sisters in Christ. His love for the people he ministered to and alongside is evident throughout his writings. Reading through the Pauline letters can benefit us as we are separated from our own churches.            

            Paul’s expression of his longings reminds us that we are not unique in this season of separation. He was away from the people he longed for because he was laboring to spread the gospel. All across the world, missionaries miss their home churches. Many spend years of their life without corporate worship in their native language because they desire to see the gospel spread. As we feel the longing for worship with our church family, may we remember the sacrifice of missionaries and increase our prayer for them.

            Those missionaries are away from home because they recognize the need for the gospel to permeate peoples from every tribe and nation. In many places, believers don’t have access to a local church. My friend Dehran lived in an Islamic city without any other believers for several years. Last I heard, Dehran was living in a refugee camp, likely with no access to a local church. All across the globe today, there are people who, like Dehran, have no brother or sister in Christ to fellowship with. And many of them don’t have access to the virtual platforms I do! Although I don’t know how much longer we’ll be separated from our church, I have every reason to believe it will end soon. That’s not a reality for many believers. May we use this season to pray for believers who don’t have a local church where they live. 

            Paul doesn’t just wallow in his sadness over the separation; his feelings are a reminder to him to continue ministering to the people he misses. His longing for the saints is full of thanksgiving, prayer, and encouragement. He preaches the gospel to them! He reminds them of their identity and their call to faithfulness. He urges them to cling to Christ in their suffering. I have no excuse not to do the same for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Time isn’t an issue; everything is canceled. I have the ability to write, call, or video chat. This time of physical separation is the perfect time to reach out to my fellow church members and minister to them. 

            People across time and location have longed for the church, be it local or global. I don’t mean to minimize anyone’s sadness over this isolating season; rather, I hope it will bring comfort knowing that many have endured separation in various times and places. This season of separation is difficult, but I know—because God promised it in His word—that He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him. I’m trusting that this, too, will be for His glory and good. As we long for Sunday with our church families, may we long even more for when no one will ever be isolated from the body of Christ. Come quickly, Lord Jesus! 

Jessica Burke

Jessica lives in North Carolina with her husband, BT and their four children. She previously served on the 2019 ERLC Leadership Council and loves to write in her spare time. The Burkes lived overseas for three years as missionaries and are members of King’s Cross Church, a multiethnic plant in downtown Greensboro.