Written by: Rachael Keefe

Love in the Time of COVID: It’s not what you think

I wonder what church would be like if we dropped everything except the two greatest commandments. What would worship be like if it was focused on expressing our love for …

Love in the Time of COVID: It’s not what you think

Online home of the Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe.
Image of an infant hand holding onto the finger of an adult hand

I wonder what church would be like if we dropped everything except the two greatest commandments. What would worship be like if it was focused on expressing our love for God with all our hearts, souls, and minds? What would kinship and missions be like if we focused all our activities on loving our neighbors as ourselves? This would be a new reformation that I could get behind. If an activity doesn’t focus on love in one way or another, then it probably isn’t necessary to life of the church. Don’t get me wrong, this focus on love, both divine and human, isn’t easy and much of society doesn’t support love as a foundation for all human action.

Jesus doesn’t speak casually of love the way we do today. We love chocolate. We love TV shows. We love our spouses. We love good food. We love time at the beach. We use the word for all the things we enjoy whether it’s simple enjoyment or deep emotional and spiritual connection, the word is the same – love. Jesus had a few alternatives to choose from and I’m convinced he chose his words carefully. He used the word agape. Yes, this is the kind of unconditional, steadfast love that God has for us. Jesus set his expectation of humanity high. He wants us to live into, strive for, this same kind of love. You know, here on earth as it is in heaven. It’s a goal and an invitation to start the journey. It’s only impossible if we rely only on ourselves. In community, it might just be possible to embody Christ in such a way that agape becomes a reality.

I don’t know what your experience has been during this pandemic. Mine has been one marked by privilege for sure. I have been able to stay home, work from home, and have most things I need delivered. I haven’t lost anyone close to me to the virus. On the other hand, I have struggled with feeling powerless when I’ve had to offer pastoral care virtually rather than in person. I’ve had to stay home and offer support when there were protests I would ordinarily have been a part of. I’ve had bouts of irritability no doubt caused by essentially being confined to my house and not being able to go back East to visit the ocean and friends, many of whom comprise my family of choice. This being said, pandemic has given me profound insight into a part of myself I didn’t know existed.

While I have had health concerns most of my life, I never considered myself to be limited by them. No matter how I was feeling, I did what needed to be done. I pushed through pain or fatigue or other symptoms. I always presented myself as fine. Since I have multiple risk factors for COVID-19, I have had to stay home, stay away from people. No more trips to the grocery store. No more working from the office. No more in person gatherings or meetings for any purpose. I have been forced to face my own ableist views. Masking the symptoms of my illness and pretending I am fine all the time, perpetuates the myth that if you look fine then you are fine. This way of denying my physical health needs reveals a less than loving attitude toward myself and toward my neighbors who may also have an invisible or visible disability. I am working toward being more kind and gentle with myself, and being more honest about my physical health. If I can love others who have disabilities, then I can love myself.

My personal revelation has made me more sensitive to the ways in which church has been ableist centered as well. A year ago we said that we couldn’t manage online services because the technology was too expensive or too complicated. Look at us now. Most congregations have figured out how to have online worship, kinship, and educational activities. Some of us even plan to keep online worship as an option when we are able to meet in person again as a way to include those for whom actually getting to worship is a challenge. Making it easier to be part of a worshiping community is the goal here. It is the loving thing to do – love for God and love for neighbor.

Jesus spoke an invitation, a vision for how life could be for those of us who follow him. My example of ableism and how it permeates our society and the church, is just one way in which we have not been faithful followers, not embodying love for all our neighbors. Imagine a world where we each respond to Jesus’ invitation to love without condition, to love fiercely and constantly. This amazing vision Jesus had for humanity where we love God, ourselves, and all of our neighbors with the kind of steadfast love God has for us is still possible. The invitation is still echoing through the generations. We can claim it and begin the journey of building this world in which all people have value because they are God’s beloved. It’s not too late and it begins with us, as church, embodying the love made known to us in Jesus. The vision is beautiful and it won’t become reality if we all don’t get busy living it. And don’t worry about those times when we fail because there is grace enough to cover us all. After all, we’ve been blanketed in God’s grace for more generations than we can remember.

For all the suffering that 2020 has brought, maybe we can make it the year we began to embody agape for real… Then maybe, in a hundred years or so, historians might look back at this time as another Reformation…

RCL: Year A Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost October 25, 2020 Deuteronomy 34:1-12 with Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 or
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 with Psalm 1 and
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

Photo: CC0image by Bonnie Kolarik

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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