The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
“April is the cruelest month,” writes T.S. Eliot at the start of his poem The Wasteland and we may be inclined to agree in this most unusual month during the COVID-19 pandemic. Never before in our lifetime have we stayed at home when the church calendar called us to Easter worship and family and friends would ordinarily have beckoned us to glad reunions, as spring in Minnesota comes into full bloom.
I am grateful for the way pastors and congregations have so quickly moved to share worship online and to support their members with phone calls and email greetings. I know that much work goes into producing worship opportunities in these new ways and I trust you join me in thanking the musicians, the videographers, the technicians, and your pastors and deacons who have been serving so faithfully through these days of Lent, Holy Week and Easter. We are a talented and resilient church.
Particularly this year it gives us great encouragement to know that God’s resurrection power cannot be stopped by a virus, a broken economy, or our human fears and anxieties.
In Matthew 28 it is Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who go at dawn to the tomb where Jesus’ body has been placed. Are they not like the few, sad mourners, who are allowed to gather for the graveside services in this strange season? An angel greets them and shows them an empty tomb, urging them to be on their way to the other disciples with the surprising message that Jesus has been raised from the dead and is going on ahead to Galilee.
Matthew describes that they left quickly “with fear and great joy” (Matthew 28:8). I pray that whatever worries you have today, whatever impatience and frustration you feel as we comply with the wise stay-at-home order, and whatever else feels unanswered in your hope for the future, that all those real feelings are buoyed by the undiminished joy of this Easter good news. For indeed -- Christ is risen.
Reading on in Matthew’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus himself met the two women and said to them: “Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 28:10)
In the days ahead there are big questions to address in each of our congregations. How do we extend pastoral care in times of sickness and death when we cannot be with each other in person? How do we maintain the momentum of worship life and faith formation through more weeks of staying-at-home? How do we step up with financial stewardship when investment income and employment are both shaken? How do we truly care for neighbors beyond the church community, especially those most beleaguered in these tough and trying days? Everything that it means to be a community of faith will be set in sharp outline as this pandemic season continues.
I do not have all the answers to those questions but I do have the resolve that in this synod we are going to pull together to see that folks in each of our 110 congregations and mission starts have the support that is needed to move gracefully and faithfully through this time of testing. We will then embrace the fresh opportunity we will be given beyond this pandemic season to be Christ’s Church in new and faithful ways.
Across the culture it will be tempting to return to our pre-pandemic habits of looking out for ourselves or a narrowly defined circle of concern. With Easter joy ringing in our ears, let’s be the church that responds out of the best lessons we are learning. Among those lessons are unabashed commitment to the hope God gives the world in Jesus Christ and an unwavering love for neighbors, especially those most weighed down by worry in the days ahead.
I am grateful to be serving in this church alongside all of you. Thank you for all the precautions you are taking to stay healthy and to help our communities move through these days together.
In Christ’s service,
Bishop Patricia Lull