United Methodists are accustomed to being together. We trace our roots back to a group of college students who gathered to encourage one another in their spiritual journeys. In the early days of the church, Methodists often met without a pastor “to watch over one another in love.” Nearly 300 years after those students first assembled, our churches continue to gather for worship, small groups, Sunday school, potluck suppers, choir rehearsals and so much more.
In recent days, however, we’re missing our connection to our siblings in Christ. Due to calls for social distancing to help stem the spread of COVID-19 and the coronavirus, our church buildings are closed and all gatherings postponed or canceled. Technology helps, but it’s just not the same as sitting in the same room together.
While we may feel a bit alone during this time apart, it is good to remember that God's love is big enough to bridge the gaps created by social distancing.
In John 4, a father who works as a royal official approaches Jesus and asks him to come to his house to heal his dying son. Jesus replies, “Go home. Your son lives.” On the father’s way home, some people come out from his house to meet him. They say, “Your son lives!”
Curious about what’s happened, the father asks what time his son got better. “The fever left him yesterday at about one o’clock in the afternoon,” they say. The same time Jesus told him his son would live.
Most of the time, Jesus' healings include some physical contact. He touches a leper. A woman reaches out for the hem of his robe. He makes mud and places it on a blind man’s eyes.
That’s not the only way, however. There’s a similar story about a centurion’s servant receiving a healing from afar (see Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10). Sometimes, Jesus spoke a word like, “Your sins are forgiven,” and a man who couldn’t walk got up off his mat and ambled home. In this story, Jesus didn't even need to be in the same room.
Far from us
Spending time away from our churches, routines, friends and families, can make us feel isolated and alone—not only from one another, but also from God.
I’m sure that’s how this dad felt when Jesus told him, “Go home.” He’d asked Jesus to come to heal his son. Jesus wasn't coming. Did that mean God was far from him?
What the dad learned is that God’s love can cover the distance, because God is already there. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Even when we feel distant alone and far from God, we are not.
In these lonely days of working from home, bingeing Netflix in our pajamas, keeping children occupied and learning, and video-calling friends and family, it is good to remember that God’s love can bridge the distance between us. Even when we cannot be together physically, we can continue to care for one another.
May you and I find ways to know and share the love of Jesus, even while we are apart.
This story was published March 25, 2020.