Do you remember that children’s poem that reads, “Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the door and see all the people.”? Well, these present days sure do challenge that simple little poem.
These days, the COVID virus is all around us. It is an ever-present reality that lurks and strikes without discrimination. Our world can feel unsafe and uncertain. For many, church is a place where we can come to feel close to our God, to be with people that we often call family, to pray and be held in prayer, to repeat the words of our faith, and to sing the hymns that speak of our deep and abiding spiritual path. But these days, that is different. These days, in order to be safe ourselves and to keep our beloved community safe, the church is not gathering together in a building. Instead, we are kept close through technology. Yet as functional as Zoom and FaceTime are, most of us long for human contact: to see the face of others, to hug, and simply touch. We know that we are doing the right thing for ourselves and others, yet our hearts long for more. This is hard, really hard!
The church is the gathering of God’s beloved. You and I – we are God’s beloved. You and I – we are the church. So during this season of preparing for and celebrating the most Holy birth of our Lord, how do we continue our walk of faith? In this time when the things that we have come to anticipate – certain music, particular prayers, special adornments of our church – how do we sing the Lord’s song in this strange and foreign land?
While I do not even pretend to have any answers and my own heart is breaking at the thought of not kneeling, holding a candle, and singing Silent Night on this most Holy of nights, I offer a few thoughts. First the promise of Matthew: “And Lo I am with you always even to the end of the ages.” No matter how isolated we feel, our God promises to be with us through whatever we encounter in life. Secondly, faith is what accompanies us in the middle of the story. We celebrate new beginnings. Endings, too, can be filled with celebration and also offer the prospective of looking backwards and seeing where we have been. It is our faith that gets us through the middle of the story. Those seemingly small rituals provide order and consistency. You will probably recall the wisdom to pay attention to the little things because, in the end, you realize that life is to be found in those seemingly small moments.
So, light the candles of the Advent wreath, make the cookies, decorate the tree, ground yourself in reading the scriptures about the birth of the Christ child, and end your day with the Lord’s Prayer. Whatever practices ground you, hold them close and continue them.
We will regather soon. Our church will come together to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Our church will find new life in our new rector. In these difficult in-between times, take heart. Our God is with us, always. Our faith will accompany us through this strange and difficult middle, and our simple daily practices will support us and make our paths straight to prepare the way of the Lord.
The Rev. Sarah Nelson