This Sunday will be the first in my almost 45 years on this planet I haven’t been with a congregation to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.
My family, Holly, Walker, Shel, Canon and I, will sit in our house tomorrow morning and watch The Rev. Bob Sharman deliver a sermon he recorded on Saturday.
It won’t be the same as being there with him and the rest of our church family.
There won’t be photos in front of the church with children in their new Easter Sunday best.
There won’t be Easter egg hunts with Eater baskets overflowing.
There won’t be my mother-in-law’s yeast rolls for Easter dinner.
We are in this position because of an insipid virus that has caused the entire world to panic.
This coronavirus has forced us to do the one thing our society is not equipped to do: be apart from one another.
We want to gather together. We have to gather together.
But that gathering may be the death of some of us. It has always been so. Communicable illnesses have killed us for our entire history.
Those who we elected to govern us have decided gatherings for most any reason are dangerous.
On Wednesday, we saw the need to gather together and the mandate to separate collide in Greenville.
Members of the First Bible Baptist Church in Greenville gathered in their cars in the parking lot of the church to listen to the Wednesday night service from the pulpit on a low-powered FM radio broadcast. To hear the sermon on that service you’d have to be fairly close to the source.
The sermon was also streamed on the Internet for other members who were not in the parking lot of the church.
Lee Gordon, who has been a member of the church for more than 20 years, said they usually have about 40 people in attendance in the sanctuary on a normal Wednesday.
I happened to be driving by the church when Greenville Police were there to enforce the mayor’s executive order banning such gatherings. I saw more than a dozen cars in the lot.
There were several police cars on the streets beside the church.
The officers asked the people there to leave. Some did. Some stayed. Those who stayed now have to answer to the $500 fine for violation of the mayor’s executive order.
It created a firestorm on social media.
It has also created a situation that could be a tipping point in how our society moves forward.
Our churches throughout history have acted as a sanctuary from the world we live in because they are not of this world.
This sanctuary is now being taken away. In some cases, the churches are willingly closing their doors temporarily but finding ways to spread their message through other forms.
While the message is being disseminated, the essential togetherness of the sanctuary is lost.
While I don’t think Gordon and the other church members in that parking lot were in any danger, the police officers there were playing a hand they didn’t choose.
The hand they were given was built upon the fear of an epidemic whose outcome won’t be known for quite some time.
I wish the following words were mine, but they come from Rev. Sharman:
“So many people let fear make up their minds and then close them. Then they implicitly accuse everyone who differs in nuance — few differ in general — of being reckless with public health and careless with death. That is simply not true. They can say it is but that doesn’t make it so.”
And this is where we are now. Fear of an unknowable outcome has pushed us to give up almost everything in our lives we hold dear.
Family members have been separated from their dying relatives in their last moments of life.
Children have been shut away from their schools and locked in their homes.
The church doors and parking lots have been closed.
There’s no little league baseball.
More people are dying today of the COVID-19 illness than of any other cause in the United States.
While the increase in infection rates are rising in some areas and slowing in others, there is no doubt the communities have ground to a halt.
We’ve given away all our choices because the people whom our founding documents protect us from the tyranny of have said it is in our best interest.
It’s a choice we might never fully recover from, but so is death at the hands of COVID-19.
We have to choose what we value most.
In the words of the great Augustus McRae in Lonesome Dove, “It ain’t dying I’m talking about Woodrow, it’s living.”
And that’s the choice we have to make. Is living worth the chance of your death or someone else’s?
In all our history the answer to that question has always been yes, life is worth the living.
Angel alert goes out to those who have found ways to share their message on this Easter and Passover weekend.
Jon Alverson is proud to be publisher and editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 335-1155.