Embodied Presence & Pandemic Curse

Resisting ideology as we ponder a return to gathered worship.

Churches do not need anyone to tell us when to reopen or when to remain closed, when to gather again as congregations and when to stay apart.

The vast majority of ordained and lay leaders in the churches are listening first to the Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ and not another Spirit, who tells us to love our neighbors.

This selfsame Spirit compelled centuries of the first Christians to put themselves in harm’s way for the sick, the widow and orphan, the prisoner, the hungry, and the stranger, because they are where Christ told us we would encounter him, the human who is God. And the demands of love are free. They are never coerced or imposed.

It is this desire to see the face of God in another human (think Les Misérables) that leads Christians into embodied solidarity with everyone, and it is embodied presence that has from the beginning driven our worship—the embodied presence of God the Word in the Eucharist and the presence of his body in us God’s gathered people.

Risk is part of what it means to be the hands and arms of Love in the world. Still, the vast majority of Christians in America and around the globe understand the unique challenge of this pandemic. We understand that embodied proximity is a factor in the spread of the disease.

The virus is not only an enemy of human bodies but of embodied human connection and gathering, and it is an enemy of the vulnerable.

It is a kindness and it is good that our electronic devices give us ways of connecting virtually as local bodies, as congregations of those who trust in the embodied God, but we fool ourselves to believe that this disembodied way of being together is sustainable.

And yet, the majority witness of the church in this pandemic has been to exercise prudence and patience, to refrain from congregating and embracing, in embodied solidarity with the vulnerable.

Most Christians leaders also listen to science and medicine, and have prayed for first responders and responsible leaders primarily by following (and trusting) their advice.

We celebrate the image of God in humanity as all the nations honor our parents by staying home. We rejoice as the world takes a sabbath rest, not worshipping the idols of production and money but cherishing humans first, a cherishing that has also healed the earth in unexpected ways.

We will gather as Christ’s presence in the world as soon as we are able but when we do it will be for the sake of Christ’s body and in brotherhood with the vulnerable, gathering in ways that are safe and sustainable—not to secure our “religious liberties” or (as businesses must) keep our doors open.

May we resist allowing our communities to become part of America’s ideological sparring match, where meeting together is solidarity with conservative politics and remaining apart is solidarity with progressive politics. As Christ folllowers our solidarity is with the weak and the poor who show us the face of God.

May we instead listen. May we instead hesitate to judge. May we instead show empathy for all, especially those who see the way forward differently than we do.

May we refuse to enter the fray of division, dissension, and loudspeakers.

May we enter instead the silence of Holy Saturday, as we prepare once again to embody in corporate worship the better and sacred word of resurrection that all of our Lord’s Day gatherings proclaim—wherever and whenever we choose to congregate.

The Spirit that the church embodies is the spirit of humility. She celebrates the upside down power of a wounded God, who suffers and dies for the life of the world that God loves, that the world God loves might be rescued from the futility and death this virus represents.

May we allow the humility and vulnerability of our nail-scarred God to govern our communities and rule our hearts as we serve the world, making incarnate the way of the cross in a living fellowship that contradicts the way of sin and death.

This is a moment pregnant with renewed opportunity to speak and enact the gospel, a gospel of good news that the weakness of our God has overcome the world.

Here’s what I mean to say: when we enter as the church into the way that God is always already present in the world as a human, when we follow Jesus, the forever embodied God, we resist being co-opted by political agendas like “liberty” and are truly free.

In this freedom we remember that the church never closed (only her buildings); that she will never ever close, because she will overcome all of the hells we make of this world until the world is transfigured by Love.



Pastor | Contributor: Mockingbird, Sojourners, Huffington Post, Clarion Journal | Theologian l Author “Vulnerable God” (forthcoming, Baker Books)

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Kenneth Tanner

Pastor | Contributor: Mockingbird, Sojourners, Huffington Post, Clarion Journal | Theologian l Author “Vulnerable God” (forthcoming, Baker Books)