I am sure I am not alone in lamenting the fact that we are going on a year now since the pandemic changed the way we saw our gathering together in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day. The soft underbelly of this long time frame is that stark realization that some, perhaps many, of those who have not been back yet will not ever be back. The world has done a good job telling us that Church is non-essential to our lives (as if we needed much help in this direction). The fear mongers have taught us to be afraid of the folks around us (as if we were not already in danger of too much isolation). The media has taught us well that the screen suffices and we do not need in person anything (just like my insurance tells me to visit the web doctors before heading to a clinic). The road ahead is learning again to be glad to go to the House of the Lord and to rejoice in the presence of God and His people in reality that is touchable and real (as opposed to digital).
I have said it many times. Growing up, we did not fight it. We knew that unless we had died, we would be in Church on Sunday morning. But we also understood this was the nature of our family's life. Church was not a burden to be endured but a part of our very identity. The Lord's House was a familiar and comfortable home while at the same time harboring space that reminded us this was holy ground. Our presence was not casual and neither was what happened in the presence of the Most High. It was solemn without being stern, holy without being off putting, and special in a familiar sort of way. My parents had learned well from the Psalmist and they taught us well. I was glad when they said unto me, 'Let us go into the House of the Lord.
It was also a place for family. My grandfather was there and tons of cousins and other relatives (I was not sure exactly how we were related but we were). In the cemetery down form the back of the church building, there were planted even more relatives. This was a congregation of family and family together (including those with whom we were related through Christ's blood and not our own). Part of my gladness to be in the House of the Lord was the recognition that this was a place where my ancestors worshiped, prayed, confessed, and communed.
All of that will have to be retaught and relearned. That God's House is a place that beckons us and a place we call home is no longer something to be assumed. That God's House is a place of family and for family goes against the instinct we have learned (both individualism and the narrowest definition of family). That God's House is a place of joy will have to overwhelm the sense of fear and foreboding that has characterized so much of our recent memories. But that is exactly where we need to begin if we hope to end up with less of the new normal and more of the old normal.
Oddly in one sense but thoroughly understandable in another, the people who will have to relearn this are those on the younger end of our membership. All through this pandemic we have been told repeatedly that age and health problems required those on the older end of our membership to isolate. But age and affliction also serve as a reminder of the fragility of life and the need for what is given in the Word and Sacraments of God's House. Perhaps it is also true that these as a group tend to be less convinced of the ability of technology to replace personal contact. In any case, younger families may be the harder to convince that the Lord's House is a refuge, a place to run to and not from, and that in person worship around the Word and Table of the Lord cannot be replaced by anything digital and it will be even more critical to teach them to teach their children to be glad to come into the House of the Lord. As much as anything, this will need be retaught, relearned, and rejoiced in if the Church post-pandemic is to look even close to the Church pre-pandemic.
Thanks Pastor, I too something despair at the missing of “church-in-person.”
1) I think of the Children of Israel during the Babylonian Captivity…away from Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord for 70 years. (I listen to Don McLean singing “By the waters of Babylon… We lay down and wept… for thee Zion…We remember thee Zion.)
2) Saturday, Dec. 19th ,my adult son took me out into the dangerous, masked world for a much needed hair cut…I have in the last 6 months grown a pretty spectacular (still full and red) head of hair for a 72-year old. While we were out, I called the church and Pastor Becker was there and I asked if we could come by for Communion. He said of course. My son and I shared our first Communion in over 10 years. My son commented later on how wonderful it was to be back in a Confessional Lutheran Church with Liturgy and Confession/Absolution and Communion from a Pastor who put on robes and lite candles for the performance of a sacred rite...for the forgiveness of our sins.
This too shall pass…I will get to go back to my church family and worship together when the vaccine is widely distributed next year. I put my 2020 tithe on the Alter.
The next generation will be OK… for we have planted faith in them and they will plant faith in their children…through the Means of Grace…within the church.
I thank God for faithful, Confessional Pastors like you and Pastor Paul Becker who tirelessly preach the Word and give us hope to keep the faith alive.
Blog on Pastor. Your words are a Comfort and give Hope.
Blessed Christ-Mass to all Confessional Lutherans...and too all people… that they may believe in Christ, the only begotten Son of God…and believing have Eternal Life.
Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon. Kingsport, TN.
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