Because of rapidly rising COVID numbers in our community, our congregation made the difficult decision to suspend in-person worship services again. Here are some remarks that I shared with our congregation in light of this decision.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Is 2020 really over? It seems like the year that refuses to end, doesn’t it? I write these words in the midst of our congregation’s temporary suspension of all in-person worship services (again!), along with all other in-person gatherings at the church. My family and I have been so grateful to be able to at least worship here in person since September, and so disappointed to have to give up that for a few weeks. We understand and agree with the need to do so, but it is disappointing, without a doubt. Even when we couldn’t gather for all of our other activities, at least we could gather for Sunday morning worship.
This won’t surprise you, but this experience reminds me of some powerful words written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer back in the 1930s, from a book on Christian community called Life Together. Here they are:
It is by God’s grace that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly around God’s word and sacrament in this world. Not all Christians partake of this grace. The imprisoned, the sick, the lonely who live in the diaspora, the proclaimers of the gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible community is grace. They pray with the psalmist: “I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival” (Ps. 42:4). But they remain alone in distant lands, a scattered seed according to God’s will. Yet what is denied them as a visible experience they grasp more ardently in faith.
Not all Christians are able to gather visibly around God’s word and sacrament in this world. That has always been true. I have visited with many Christians, in nursing homes, living rooms, and hospitals, who have lamented that they are not able to worship in person. They “grasp more ardently in faith” what their experience denies them.
In God’s grace we will return to in-person worship soon. We will gather once again, “visibly around God’s word and sacrament.” And in God’s grace we will return to all of our other cherished and missed activities soon, too. In the meantime, we can lament, and pray, and long for a return to these things. And we can do this knowing that our desire to worship God and to be with God’s people is itself pleasing to God. And we can do this knowing that our call to follow Jesus and to help usher in his reign of love does not depend on our spending our Sunday mornings at 230 South Second Street. Wherever we are, we are the church. But whenever we can, let us return to South Second Street, with glad and thankful hearts, to worship our loving God with our brothers and sisters in Christ.