It’s been nearly a year since my congregation met inside our building. The prospect of gathering with our neighbors in our windowless, cinderblock building and breathing all over each other didn’t seem wise in the age of Covid-19.
Change is hard. Especially for me. My life has been focused on leading a worship service (with lunch following) every Sunday for the last 10 years. As a friend said once, “It’s like you host a wedding every week,” and I felt like that at the end of every Sunday lunch. Suddenly it all came to a full stop.
About three months into our pandemic-induced halt, I realized that my body was still working up its traditional Sunday morning angst. But eventually, I started to notice a new angst. I wondered if my church was going to survive the pandemic if we continued to keep our building closed. I wondered how many other pastors were feeling the same angst.
But in my wondering, God reminded me that the nonprofit structure that we named “Cityview Church” didn’t have to survive in order for God’s church to survive. Going to a church service isn’t a requirement for actively loving our neighbors as ourselves.
That wasn’t exactly the encouraging message I wanted. But, by God’s mercy, I was given the ears to hear. And what I heard from the Spirit was an invitation to keep listening for the voice of God.
The angel tells him to do something
critically important: Eat and take a nap. It’s almost ridiculous, isn’t it?
Elijah the prophet receives an invitation to listen in 1 Kings 19. Prior to this point in the story, he was riding high after defeating the prophets of Baal. But a threat on his life from Queen Jezebel sends Elijah into a tailspin. He’s done everything right, so he didn’t expect the story to take this turn. He goes into hiding where he is met in the midst of his uncertainty by a messenger from God. The angel tells him to do something critically important: Eat and take a nap. It’s almost ridiculous, isn’t it? There’s so much to do. He’s got to escape. He may be killed. Still, God says, “Bro, take a nap.” In other words, “Chill out. I’ve got you.”
When the journey resumes, Elijah is on his way to meet with God. He knows it and the first hearers of this story would have recognized his destination, Mt. Horeb, as the place where Moses met God. Certainly, something big would happen there.
If you remember your Sunday school lessons, this is yet another unexpected moment in the story. It was reasonable for Elijah and anyone who heard this story to expect the God of creation to speak in the windstorm, the earthquake, or the fire. But the Scriptures are clear that the prophet knew that God wasn’t in any of these. Then, a surprise. He senses God’s presence in a “gentle whisper.” My favorite translation of this phrase is “fragile silence.”
God speaks to Elijah at his lowest point in the “fragile silence.” Some of us are at very low points in this Covid season. We’ve lost loved ones or we know someone who has. We’ve watched our friends shutter their businesses or churches. The already too long lines of hungry people receiving food are getting longer. And yet, God still speaks. It’s not always the word we want to hear. But it is a sustaining, nurturing word, birthed in the fragile silence.
So, friends, get a snack, take nap, and listen closely. Because God is still here.