A week ago, we held our first virtual house church. Did I ever think those words would go together? No. Virtual and house church may seem like oxymorons, but maybe that’s because we’ve been using technology wrong all along. So often technology is used in a way that draws people out of community. We move from being in person, to calling, to texting. We go from face to face, to having a screen between us. We use social media to consume each other rather than to serve each other. But that’s not the way things were supposed to be. Community was never meant to be disembodied.
We as humans were created for community. Just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have complete unity within the godhead, we were created in His image to delight in relationship with Him and others. That is what the Church is meant to be. We are the bride of Christ, unified with each other and longing for our wedding feast together with our bridegroom. From the garden to the grave, the gospel is a story of embodied community.
When Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, the tragedy was not that they no longer lived in paradise…it was that they no longer could walk with God in the garden. Now there was a separation. Within the curse given to them, there was now also a wedge driven between Adam and Eve’s unity. There was now relational discord. Their son, Cain, killed their other son, Abel. Throughout the Old Testament books, from the history books through the minor prophets, we see war and division and disunity between people with each other and disunity between people and God. The fulfillment of God’s plan to restore these relationships was not to zap people with his power from the heavens. Instead, Jesus was embodied in human form. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That is the truth of the incarnation. And that is why we value embodied community. Jesus entered into our spaces and lived a life in community with the very people he later died and resurrected to save.
So what does this mean for our Covid-19 quarantine? Disembodied community is not new for the church. Throughout history, whether from persecution, physical distance, or plague, there have been periods of time when the church has been dissipated. But even in those moments, communication was used to connect the church. Paul often said in his letters to the churches that he wished he could be physically present with them. And as of right now, our church plant team is separated not only by this quarantine, but by physical distance as well. We don’t live in the same town yet, but this quarantine has provided us the opportunity to meet together as a church when we normally wouldn’t be able to.
I am encouraged because when the quarantine pushed people to be removed from embodied community, they started using technology in embodied ways to see each other’s faces and hear each other’s voices and sit in each other’s presence even from afar. And so we’ve created a kind of embodied disembodied community.
And as our team has been planning for our new venture, it has caused us to think more deeply about what church was meant to be. Church is not just a place you show up to and leave. You don’t get attendance points. It is an embodied community celebrating the truths of an incarnational gospel in our lives together. Church is something we were always meant to participate in.
So how do we do that technologically? While many churches are forced to resort to sending out a live video to a congregation of hundreds of people, we were able to meet together in a much smaller group over zoom. Each person present was able to participate and contribute as we checked in on each other, prayed together, read and discussed the Word together, broke bread together, and worshipped together. Questions were able to be asked, like “How are you doing?” or “what do you think Jesus was saying in this passage?”
We studied John 4 together, which tells the story of the Woman at the Well. She, herself, has been dispersed from community because her community looked down on her and treated her like an outcast. She was a Samaritan and a woman, which means Jesus had no cultural reason to even speak to her. But instead he was thirsty and asked for a drink, a sentiment that was repeated on the cross, and a sign of his humanity. He invites her into conversation and offers her living water. After trying to quench her own thirst with other men and fill her voids with other things, Jesus offers her the only thing that will truly fill her: himself. This passage is a beautiful example of the embodied, incarnational community that Jesus brings to weary and disenfranchised people. Her response was to share her joyous news with the whole town, who then also came to Jesus.
As our little budding house church continues to meet virtually, I see the Lord doing a beautiful thing through a very unbeautiful circumstance. As we are each pushed away from seeing people face to face, we lean into the embodied disembodied community of our virtual church. We participate in the community this offers. And we long for the day when we will be together.
When we get to our new mission field, the fields will be ripe for harvest, just as Jesus said they were in John 4. We will face people like the woman at the well who have been stripped or excluded from embodied community and people who have tried to quench their thirst with everything but Jesus. And in those spaces, we will enter into incarnational hospitality. We will finally be able to meet face to face, and we will invite people to drink deeply from the Living Water. And as we meet together face to face, we will long for the moment when we can see Jesus face to face. With the Lord’s help and for his glory, we will build a community that invites others to participate and be known. And in the meantime, our little church will continue to do this virtually, inviting those in our lives who are already separated from a church body to be with us and come to Jesus. No plague or persecution has ever stopped the church before, and Covid-19 has no power to separate us from the love of Christ now either!