I got what I asked for and I was wrong. (Isn’t that usually how it works?)

Not long ago I wrote about wanting to skip church. Making every excuse I could to try to get out of it. Dreading Saturday nights before I’d have to go the next day. As “good” as I know church is, it didn’t stop me from wanting to miss it altogether. Sleeping in and brunch and having no plans and staying up late Saturday night—they all seemed preferable to church on Sunday morning.

But now, I take it all back.

I’d give anything to be back in church on Sunday morning.

Too see my people. To chit chat about life in our little town. To field annoying complaints about the building or the budget or the bulletin.

I would give anything to stand next to someone. To shake someone’s hand. To give anyone a hug.

I didn’t want to go to church, and now I can’t go to church, and all I want to do is go to church.

You are probably in the same boat. Churches across the country have closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a terrifying plague made more sedate by its medically sanitized name. It’s not “the black death” or the “Spanish Flu.” Its five meaningless letters, one cold hyphen, and a number that even Count von Count could stomp his feet to on Sesame Street.

This nasty little series of letter and numbers—the highly secure, doubly approved password-worthy virus—has closed my church until at least May, but if we’re honest with ourselves we know (which is a dangerous thing while “socially distanced”) will probably be much longer.

I would give anything to be with the Body of Christ in person on any day of the week. The Protestant in me was quite surprised to find himself deeply dismayed at the prospect of not receiving Communion for several months. (Heck, I’ve been considering participating in a virtual “Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament;” look it up—it’s about as far from Geneva as one gets! But desperate times call for desperate measures.) I would give anything to be less than 6ft away from the people that I love, my co-laborers on the family farm at harvest—my messy, beautiful, human congregation.

I wanted to skip church. And now church skipped me. And I take it all back.

Now, I could talk about the grace and difficulty of parenting a toddler while “working” (HA!) from home, but Sarah has already done that better than me. I could talk about the dangers to ourselves and our love and care for others that a pandemic can cause, but Todd did that. I could talk about any number of the truths that have been revealed by this global pandemic—our need of a savior who suffers with us, our need for others and for community, our NEED for church.

But instead what I want to offer is this:

There’s a lot of things that make church hard—that made me, and still make me, want to skip it. But the grace I’m learning—as I recreate the meme about thousands of churches livestreaming services that look like hostage videos—is that I would take all of those things in a heartbeat if it meant I could gather with the Body of Christ.

Complaints about typos in the bulletin during the receiving line pale in comparison to the thought that the next time I might gather with some of the families in my congregation will be for a COVID-19 related funeral for their (and my) loved one.

Like the Cross of Christ, that singular moment of redemption and salvation and reconciliation of the world, this pandemic strips away any room for boasting or comparison, judgment or complaining. I’ve often commented about how I wished that the world had a more palpable and visceral experience of death—that death might be familiar and nameable as opposed to hidden off in funeral homes and nursing facilities. The chaff gets blown away in the wind and only the kernel remains. In the breaking down and the casting out and the pushing away, the brokenness and slights of the world get tossed aside, and the truth of it all appears on full display. The horror is emptied of its power, and the beautiful if difficult truth remains.

I miss my people. I miss God’s people. There is nothing I can do to protect them, apart from praying for Divine intervention. Their problems and criticisms and humanity that so frustrated me, melt away, and the only thing left is the truth of these folks as God’s beloved—my beloved—who seem so fragile and vulnerable in the current state of the world. These people I would’ve gladly left for a supply clergy person of dubious quality just weeks ago, are revealed to be the keepers of a significant part of my heart and soul. And I am terrified I’m going to lose them.

So, I take it back. I take it all back. This is not what I had in mind. This is not what I wanted.

And yet, the truth is, this is how it’s always been—I was just too blind to see it. These folks have always been the beloved of God. They have always been in need of unconditional love. If not from me, then from God.

I suppose this pandemic has shown me a glimpse of the world as God sees it. Which I guess is good. But it’s also hard, and sad, and fearful, and terrifying—and so vulnerable.

So I take it all back. Not my desire to skip church. But the selfish pride that made me think that what I wanted or worried about or was annoyed by was more important than God’s love for his people.

I take it all back.

O Almighty God, the Lord of life and death, of sickness and health; Regard our supplications, we humbly beseech thee; and; as thou hast thought fit to visit us for our sins with great sickness and mortality, in the midst of thy judgment, O Lord, remember mercy. Have pity upon us miserable sinners, and withdraw from us the grievous sickness with which we are afflicted. May this thy fatherly correction have its due influence upon us, by leading us to consider how frail and uncertain our life is; that we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which in the end will bring us to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

“A prayer for a Time of Great Sickness or Mortality,” The Book of Common Prayer, 1789