May 29th, 2020
Dear friends in Christ,
Over the past weeks, you have heard me say, and read my words, calling for us to learn how to trust again. I communicated these thoughts against the context of the Coronavirus outbreak. But today, I want to suggest that our society, the communities we belong to, and our well-being hinge upon an ability to trust so that relationships can be restored and nurtured.
It is not simply the Coronavirus that is acting upon us. The economy is broken, and with it people’s lives are threatened. There is unrest in many cities of our nation as the result of black people being killed. We know the political system is far from the dream of the Founding Fathers.
For a moment, ask how we overcome the power of a virus, or offer healing to individuals and families who have no job, little or no income, and wonder when the economy will turn around. We ask how racism can end, so that we live together in peace. And we beg for our leaders to work together for the good of all our citizens, and not just a select few.
The missing link from life today seems to be trust. The trust that is willing to believe we all want to be whole, and freed from the power of a virus, both in physical health and health of spirit. The trust that acknowledges we are all children of God, regardless of our race or other differences. The trust that proclaims that we choose our leaders with an expectation that they will represent every citizen, and work for the common good.
And while we may not always say it, trust begins with God. God trusts us to use the gifts He has given us, share those gifts and be the stewards of ourselves, each other and the whole creation. His trust gives us responsibility and accountability, though at the present time we might wonder what He sees in us.
The times are challenging to be sure. But the times call on us to trust as God trusts. Trust in ourselves, trust in each other, trust in creation, trust in Him. Trust that is born out of a willingness to see what God sees, a goodness born out of being created by God and out of His love. That kind of trust gives birth to relationships, for in the common image we all share as God’s children is the seed to learning how to work together for a common goal. We need to resist the temptation to accept separation that breeds distrust, fear and hate. That is evil, pure and simple. Learning to see each other with God’s eyes, and learning to trust that what we see is born of God, offers us the opportunity to live in relationships that nurture life, and give birth to hope for all creation.
I don’t know what “time” we are living in. Jesus tells the disciples when they ask if it is the appointed time it is not for them to know such things. Rather, it is for us to accept the challenge of the moment, and live in a such a way that trust replaces suspicion and relationships replace separation. We are God’s children, and with God walking with us, we can do these things.
May 3rd, 2020
Dear friends in Christ,
I came into church today and walked around. I stood behind the altar, said prayers in the sanctuary, and looked around. As beautiful as the church was in that moment, it is so much more so with people milling around, singing the hymns, saying the prayers. I long for the time we can be together and celebrate the presence of Christ in our midst as we break bread together.
It doesn’t look like that will be in the immediate future. Bishop Gunter has offered congregations an opportunity to celebrate Eucharist on Sundays. Four people would be allowed to be present, and the expectation would be that those same four people would be there for all Sunday Eucharists until we can open the churches up to more. The idea would be that as a congregation, we could celebrate together and through those who were there. We would be one with Christ and each other spiritually, if not physically.
I am struggling with offering such an option. That is not to say I consider what is being offered by the Diocese to be wrong. It just means that I am uncomfortable with it. If there was a strong voice for this interim option I would certainly be open to it.
Let me try to explain why I am uncomfortable. I have grown up in a church that over the past 50 years or more has focused on the expectation that Eucharist engages people by inviting everyone to participate. It is to be the work of the people. Anyone who remembers the 1928 Prayer Book will recall the beauty of the language, and the sense that relatively few people were involved in doing the service. All that has changed with the present Prayer Book. In the words we so often hear today, the real work of the Eucharist is never virtual, but real by having people engaged.
I believe we are called as a people to walk together. While I know that according to the calendar, we are currently living in the Easter season, I wonder if we might remember that the world doesn’t necessarily walk hand in hand with our calendar. We keep the seasons of the Church year so that we might be prepared to live into the story of God’s grace and mercy. So while the calendar may say this is the Easter season, in reality we might be living in a different season – or even a short period of days – the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
You remember the story. Jesus had died on the cross, and his body was entrusted by Pilate to some of his followers for proper burial. He was placed in a new tomb, and a stone was placed in front of it. During that time between his death and burial and resurrection, the disciples and followers were lost. They remembered his words, his promises, but wondered what was going to happen next. They were lost.
The Church has woven that experience into Holy Week. The Saturday after Good Friday and before Easter is the only day of the entire Church year that we do not celebrate the Eucharist. It is as if the Church is telling us to trust – even as the followers of Jesus had to trust, and even as the people of Israel learned to trust when Moses went on the mountain and left them in the wilderness. Learning how to trust together, even when we are uncertain, prepares us for the engagement, participation and celebration that comes when we break bread together.
So I struggle with offering a Eucharist with a small representation of people from the congregation now. Instead, I ask us to continue this journey together, anticipating the moment we can celebrate together as one. In the meantime, I encourage you to continue with your daily prayers. For those with electronic devices, there are many sites that offer daily morning and evening prayer, including ForwardMovement.org For those without a computer or cell phone, the new Forward Day by Day booklets have come in, and if you want one let us know and we will send one out to you. There is also the Sunday virtual service we offer at St John’s, and the printed liturgy is included each week in the mailing. And if you want to be part of an online Eucharist this Sunday, within our diocese, St Thomas, Menasha together with the Cathedral in Fond du Lac offer those services. There is a prayer for spiritual communion, the practice of asking God to feed us even when we cannot physically receive the bread and wine, in the weekly liturgy we send out that accompanies the online liturgy from St John’s.
I do not believe there is only one path for us in this time of pandemic. There are resources out there that will feed us and nurture us, both as individuals and as communities. Personally, I find myself nurtured by the story of wilderness, Holy Saturday, and learning how to trust God in this moment that we might celebrate together His resurrection and ours. But know I will walk with you in whatever path you choose, expecting that in those common steps we will learn from each other and grow in love together.