Our midterm exam is in progress

Approx. read time: 3:00 min.

We cannot see what lies ahead. But the paths we’ve known are falling away.

This pandemic may feel like an interruption. But it’s not. 

It’s a test of what we disciples have learned. How are we doing?

These days we can’t gather as church in the ways we are accustomed. So we stream services online.

But the hard part is actually being church in a world in so much pain.

Right now we disciples are in our pandemic midterm exam. 

We are being tested, you and I, on how prepared we are to be church in a world which needs us now more than ever. 

Our assignment is to demonstrate to the Teacher all that we have learned and taken to heart.

So I took a peek at the exam questions, and let’s just say: They’re sobering. Questions like …

How do we be church in diaspora? (100 words, 10 points)

Diaspora originally referred to the dispersion of Jews from Israel. They lost their center, their sacred hub that defined them as “a people.”

And to some extent we’ve lost our hub, with churches closed, then reopened, but only partially, and with constraints.

But church in diaspora is still church. We still have a mission to carry out. God’s love for those whose lives we touch cannot be put on hold. We still are church.

How can we as church work together in systems crisis? (500 words, 50 points)

The suffering in our world is not separate from the faith in which we have been baptized and formed. We live in one world, equipped with one faith. 

We already are equipped—which is the start to the answer to this midterm question.

Christian community, working together—virtually or physically distanced, already holds all the forms of wealth to respond to the world’s needs. With God all things are possible, Jesus says, delivering the challenge directly to us.

As with the multiplication of loaves, our job is to show up and give God something to work with.

We dare not ignore the many forms of suffering—the dreaded onset of illness, isolation of loved ones as they prepare to die; the loss of meaningful work, and with it loss of income and health benefits; the loss of options, loss of hope.

Nor dare we ignore the strained and creaking structures that hold our lives together—massive economic structures; public health, healthcare, and educational structures; structures that support every level of governance and public safety; structures, too, that hold families and communities together.

How might we as church mobilize meaningfully in systems crisis? 

We work best as church when we recognize the global and embrace the local. Very local. Perhaps as close as our neighborhoods. We can get ourselves organized and make a start.

Doing something is a work of mature faith.

How do we hold a larger grief? (150 words, 20 points)

Sometimes I have to step away from news briefs and updates and color-coded graphs. Compassion fatigue, response fatigue, depletes my inner reserves. 

I do not carry the burden of loss of a loved one or friend. But many do. 

In my isolation my heart can easily become unhinged from human suffering and untold grief. Yet I am anointed for better than living unhinged. 

Our grief work now is to weep as Jesus wept, and to intercede, through him, in this crucible moment, to the God of all mercies, as he often did. To keep faith and not back away.

Grieving, too, is a work of mature faith.

How do we hold hope? (100 words, 20 points)

Hope is not sunny optimism. It’s the sobering, gritty conviction that from death comes life—unexpected, unexplainable.

We need community now, especially when we feel alone and disconnected. Locked doors didn’t stop the risen Lord, so this season of separation must not stop us.

Our midterm team project is to build the reign of God for our times, from blueprints etched by our forebears.

We can do this. 

And by the way, in this midterm we’re encouraged to brainstorm and share answers!


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Photo credit: Mary Sharon Moore, Above the Falls at Sweet Creek, 2019

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