Pandemic reflections: the virtual body of Christ

“The Priesthood of All in a Time of Pandemic,” a short reflection written by Deanna Thompson, the Director of the Lutheran Center for Faith, Values, and Community at St. Olaf College, appeared last week in a blog hosted by the United Methodist Church.

In it, Deanna explores suffering, community, and the body of Christ, themes central to her previous writing which draw from her personal experience with illness.

Deanna writes about how a diagnosis with stage IV cancer ultimately converted her initial skepticism about technology and social media into an appreciation for what they make possible. It also expanded her theological understanding:

Getting sick exposed me to the virtual body of Christ that extends far beyond the local church. While physical, incarnational presence of the body of Christ is at the heart of what it means to be Christian, the body of Christ has always been a virtual body.

She goes on to consider new manifestations of the “priesthood of all believers” that she has observed during this challenging tine:

Even as enforced physical distancing is making it extraordinarily difficult to be physically present with those who are ill or in the hospital, those in nursing homes or in prison, church staff are relying on members of the body to be the hands and feet of Christ and provide care of the congregation through phone calls and in-person visits that keep a safe physical distance. Using the language of my Protestant heritage, I’m seeing the priesthood of all believers at work in new and transformative ways during these days of pandemic.

Deanna’s essay could be used with students, serving as an example of how they might connect tenets of their faith tradition with observations about how COVID-19 is changing society. How are online services transforming their understanding of worship? How are notions of charity or service being challenged, expanded? What theological commitments seem the most relevant now?

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