By Rev. Dr. Kimberly Reisman
Recently I discovered that a very effective way to learn the game of chess is to begin by playing without the Queen. Because the Queen is the strongest chess piece, players often lean heavily on her for their overall strategy. Learning to play without her, however, forces you to recognize the value of all the other pieces on board, and enables you to see that there is much more to chess than the Queen.
I believe the challenges created by the COVID19 pandemic these last several weeks have revealed something of the church’s “chess” strategy. As restrictions on gatherings of people have tightened, churches have felt compelled to explore professional live streaming or at the very least Facebook Live. The quest to create a virtual worship experience has been the dominant theme across Christian social media, accompanied by a palpable undercurrent of anxiety. And that anxiety continues to amp up the closer we get to Easter. Our weekly worship services it would seem, are the Queens on our chess boards.*
And yet, just as a chess set is much more than the Queen, the church is much more than weekly worship.
Of course, this is not to say that worship is unimportant. Regular connection to the gathered community of faith is a vital part of following Jesus. Indeed it’s one of the essential values of showing and sharing the love of Jesus. So it’s a good and valuable thing that leaders are looking for creative ways to provide that connection.
However, the pandemic we’re currently facing requires more than the power of the Queen. It requires every aspect of being the church – every piece of the chess set. These other aspects have always been a sweet spot for the church. In fact, history shows us that the Church often loves best when things are at their worst. We feed the hungry, tend the sick, reach out to the lonely, create relationship and connection where there was none (even in our age of zoom and facetime). These chess pieces have long been a vital part of our ability to reach the hurting world around us, and we would do well to waste no time in focusing intently on them as we face these challenging days.
Moreover, in addition to all this, COVID19 has raised a multitude of questions that remain even in the midst of feeding the hungry and tending the sick. Why is this happening? Where is God in the midst of the suffering? Is he really in control? These are questions that neither science, nor medicine, nor the government are able to answer. These are questions that only faith can face. And how we face those questions and how willing we are to walk with people as they ask them, will be crucial to our witness in these difficult days and beyond.
So, where is God in the midst of this? How are we to understand the suffering that is happening all around us? Though the answer may feel impossible, it is no less true. God is here, in the midst of the suffering, pain, fear, and confusion. God is here.
There are many images that hold meaning for Christian faith, but there is one central, powerful image that sums it up more than any other – a naked, bleeding, suffering, divine-human being hanging on a cross.
Our God knows suffering.
In becoming human in Jesus, God descended to the very depths of our humanity, sharing all of it, even the worst of it. All for love’s sake.
Colossians 1:16 tells us that “through [Jesus Christ] God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see… Everything was created through him and for him.” (NLT) While on earth, the man Jesus healed and restored, calmed storms and walked on water. Yet he did not abolish all disease or disaster. He saves us from our sins, but not from our suffering and death. He didn’t even save himself from that. Instead he died naked on a cross.
The cross is the way through, in all times but especially in these times.
Our crucified God fully enters into suffering – not just for us, but with us. As followers of this crucified God we enter into the suffering of others as well, so that they might know that they are never alone. So that as we carry our own portion and are willing to help others carry theirs, they might see the God who carries us all.
*Thank you to my good friend Zach Szmara for this wonderful analogy.