The religion scholars asked, “Why do your disciples flout the rules, showing up at meals without washing their hands?” Jesus answered, “Isaiah was right about frauds like you: ‘They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy, ditching God’s command and taking up the latest fads.’” - Mark 7:5-8 (MSG)
Ancient Jews washed their hands as a religious obligation, but the ritual was probably rooted in the same reason we still do it: public health. To protect themselves and each other from transmitting disease.
On its face, it’s an innocent request the religious authorities are making of Jesus. “If you’re so religious, Jesus, why aren’t you following the letter of the law?”
More than once, he rebukes them. They might follow the rules, but they break the spirit of them, the spirit which is the same in every instance: love God, and love one another.
As I write this, our president has just “ordered” churches to re-open, at great risk to public health. What he overlooks is that they are already open. My church has a virtual worship service every Sunday, filmed from our worship leaders’ living rooms, patios, and even bathrooms. We have an All Ages Zoom Story Hour at which bonus grandparents read to the children of exhausted parents, a Zoom Afterparty with special attention to newcomers, a Zoom Bible study and office hours and prayer team.
On the rare occasions my colleagues are opening their church buildings, it is only on weekdays, with great care for safety, to provide boxed meals for the increasing number of people who are out of work and hungry.
Church has never closed. It just moved into new and dispersed realms. Church is finally meeting people where they are at, quite literally – because we love each other and want to preserve life.
And you know what? In many ways, this incarnation of Church is better than ever.
God, remind us that your law – above all – is one of Love. Keep our church buildings closed, and our hearts open, until further instruction from you. Amen.
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of First Congregational Church UCC in Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church, Standing Naked Before God, and her newest baby, Bless This Mess: A Modern Guide to Faith and Parenting in a Chaotic World.