Many years ago, the congregation I served lost a 13-year-old boy to suicide. It was a devastating loss. We quickly assembled a community gathering to talk with kids and parents about suicide, funerals and grief. Most of his friends had never attended a funeral and had no idea what to expect.
When the day of the funeral arrived, I was talking with a family before the service. They were a particularly engaged family: in worship every Sunday, never missing confirmation, active in fellowship and service. Even so, their 13-year-old (a member of the same confirmation group as the boy who died) had never been to a funeral. As he paged through the funeral bulletin, he looked at me in wonder and said: “Hey! I know all this! I know how to do all of this!”
Among the many things I learned from that experience, that was one of the most profound. When we practice our faith on Sunday in worship and faith-forming learning, we are doing just that. Practicing. Exercising our faith muscles with words and actions that have powerful, holy implications. Reading scripture, singing carefully crafted songs (both old and new), the proclamation of preaching, praying, sharing holy peace and the giving/receiving of bread and wine, the life-giving body and blood of our saving God, Jesus Christ.
So now, when all is discombobulated and confusing and scary and uncertain, we the church know what to do. We have, over centuries, built up the muscle memory that will not fail us now. Even as we are isolated at home, we know how to do this!
That is not to say the learning curve hasn’t been steep in discovering technology and resources. But we already know how to hear and sing and pray and hold one another in holy peace. We know how to reach out to our neighbors with offers of groceries or gestures of (safely-distanced) friendship. We know how to give money to the food shelf and offer our gifts to the church. We know how where to find hope when we feel frightened or overwhelmed. We know how to bring hope where it is needed.
Some of you have brawny, well-developed faith muscles. Some of you are only just discovering yours. But together, we are able to remind one another of the powerful promise we hear from Paul: “…I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is new territory for us all. And it is as familiar as drawing breath.
We are the creation of a God of hope, who comes in the darkness and with the dawn. God who continues to defeat death and bring us the promise of a resurrected life, both in this world and in the next.
I miss you all. I long to see your faces, hear your voices, shake your hand and place bread in your palm.
And God will bring us through this.
In the meantime, stay safe. Above all, stay safe.
Yours in Christ,