Can you remember when was the last time you were welcomed into church with a warm handshake by our cheery greeters? When was the last time we greeted one another by way of physical handshakes? It probably feels like it’s a long time back. In the time that followed, more and more social distancing measures were established and observed, rightly so as we work with the authorities to limit the spread of this deadly virus in order to protect lives.
It has been a while since we reached out to give and receive touches, and along with me, I’m sure you feel an indescribable and almost unbearable emptiness because of this. It almost feels inhuman to live in such isolation. Reaching out and connecting physically is a fundamental part of who we are— humans created in the image of the interdependent & interpenetrating Trinity. All of us are called to share in communities of one kind or another, because we have all been created in the image and likeness of God. And God is community: The very being of God is community; the Father, Son and Spirit are One in reciprocal self-giving and love. That’s why in this period of social distancing and online meet ups, in the absence of handshakes and personal touch, we feel the loss, even if it is temporal.
Even more, personal touch is a sign of the incarnation. God did not save us with a decree from heaven. He did not reveal himself to us via Zoom or Skype. No, Jesus came personally in the flesh to invite us into that relationship he enjoyed from eternity past with his Father. It is about embodiment and touch. Jesus came and lived among us. He touched many—even those shunned by society. And those he touched, he restored. Therefore, whenever Christians reach out their hands to touch the face of the dying, to hold hands and pray with the grieved, to hug those in distress, it is fundamentally a Christian act. It is not prudent for us to do so currently, but may this time of social distancing remind us afresh how we are to reflect the image of Christ to the world.
And as the Church called to be the embodiment of Christ, may this time of social distancing also awaken us to how essential the act of physical gathering is to us, even as we worship through live-streamed services.