The Apostle Paul’s admonition to the church at Ephesus to “redeem the time” has always been good advice. But rarely has the reason — “because the days are evil” — felt more relevant.
When times are good, Paul’s directive to make the most of every opportunity seems to point out the obvious. Of course: Don’t waste time. Redeem it, cash it in, for it has value.
But in these days of anxiety and isolation, “redeem” takes on the connotation of being saved from something bad. If ever a time needed redeeming, it’s the one we’re living in now.
Is redemption possible? Can we bring something good out of confinement, fear and death?
For people of faith, the answer must be yes. What would God have us learn or accomplish in this troubled time?
Perhaps the lesson most widely shared is the importance of making sacrifices for others. For the great majority of people, coronavirus is not deadly. But certain ones face a higher risk. What duty do the healthy have to those who are more vulnerable?
Governments and people around the world have answered this question with remarkable clarity: Even at tremendous financial cost, we will protect each other as best we can. Human lives are worth more than paychecks and stock-market profits.
Entire nations have collectively agreed to sacrifice economic prosperity in order to save lives. The millions who have lost their jobs are paying a high price. Yet we understand the necessity to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
It is a generous act to value lives over livelihoods and retirement funds. Our isolation has a holy purpose.
But we did not volunteer to make this sacrifice. How do we really feel about it? Do our hearts condemn us, as 1 John 3 warns, amid exhortations to love our neighbors? Or can we say, with 1 John 3:14, that we have passed from death to life because we love others?
As we grieve the loss of normal activities that unite our communities, it is our acts of kindness that reveal the condition of our hearts. On street corners, escaping the confinement of our houses, we welcome the human contact of neighbors who sympathize and offer encouragement.
Together we are fighting common enemies. The global pandemic is the obvious one. But just as fearsome to many are the enemies within: worry, depression, loneliness.
This is a time for generous acts that prove the sincerity of kind words. “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
We feel the frustrating irony of our separation: Individuals remain confined to their houses while the collective body of Christ is locked out of its building. The loss of community as we have known it will take a spiritual and emotional toll. Getting through the plague year will require prayer, patience and a lot of video chats.
But this season of closed doors can be a time of growth if we let the light of Christ shine through us. Social distancing poses widely different challenges: Some need companionship and encouragement to live with a sense of purpose rather than drift along with little to do. Others need resources to cope with the loss of employment or a break from homeschooling their children while doing their regular job at home. It is a time to bear each other’s burdens emotionally and materially.
What acts of love will we accomplish as we think and act in new ways for the sake of our neighbors? A church not confined to a building can expand its mission and redeem the time.