The discovery that we are vulnerable to calamities that we thought only happened in other parts of the world is quite sobering. 9/11 showed us that we are not invincible to terrorism; the 2008 financial crisis reminded us that we can suffer economic meltdowns reminiscent of past eras, like the Great Depression; and health watchers remind us that the coronavirus is not the first health pandemic in the world (ex., the Spanish flu in 1918).
These national and/or global crises inflict on us a loss of innocence that, at least for a while, change the ways we do things. The coronavirus has made us hypersensitive about touching things and getting close to other people. Every store, every doctor’s office, every touchable surface, and every person is deemed to be risky. We have never needed to be so suspicious of nearly everything and everyone before! Hopefully this sensitivity will recede once we get through the worst of this crisis. How quickly it will fade will be different for different people, and it may never vanish completely for anyone who has lived through it. We may well continue to avoid shaking hands and touching our faces. And we may continue to obsess about washing our hands far beyond this crisis.
It will be a tragedy, though, if the comfort we’ve had being in the presence of others is replaced with a greater comfort in being apart. What if our mindset changes from, “Is there a reason to have this meeting online?” to, “Is there any good reason to make this an in-person meeting?” The paradox of live streaming worship, having Zoom meetings, and other forms of online communication is that it creates both distance and connection at the same time. It’s possible that we might communicate more often with people who are physically farther and farther away, and who also feel safer to us precisely because of that distance. What a conundrum!
Ruminating on these thoughts during Holy Week brings a new appreciation for the presence of God in Christ Jesus in this world. When God sent Jesus, his only Son, into the world to teach, heal, forgive, and die on calvary for our sins, he did not do this from a distance! Jesus didn’t call a Zoom meeting with disciples; he typically healed people in person (though not always); and he did not die on the cross virtually. When Jesus came to the world in human flesh, he loved the world up close and personal. There were plenty of reasons for why he may have wanted to avoid being physically close to humans. In fact, one could argue that it was proximity to humans that got him crucified. If Jesus could provide salvation from a distance, there would surely have been no need to be incarnated in human flesh.
Perhaps God—being God and all—could have brought salvation while keeping his distance from humanity. But he didn’t! He joined himself personally, and in person, to our condition in our arena (earth)—even though he knew it meant he would suffer. Instead of practicing social distancing, and instead of quarantining himself from people who were most risky for him to be physically near, he came near. This is not to suggest that Christians should abandon our current practices of social distancing and isolation in light of COVID-19. My point is to simply acknowledge that Jesus boldly entered the world and came near us, in spite of the risks. It took (and takes) an in-person encounter of Jesus to align our lives with his, and to create a redemptive path for the world.
Phil Kanagy, Pastor