Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:7-18, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21
People I talk with seem to be experiencing much of what I have been experiencing. I get restless and want to get out and be among friends – and I don’t want to wear a mask when I do. I long for the “good ole days.” Our lives have been radically changed, and I sometimes feel we’ve been short-changed.
If you track the statistics, however, you can not only understand why, but appreciate the sacrifices being made as we continue our lives in the shadow of this COVID-19 virus. The deaths from this pandemic continue to rise and people continue to be infected – so we have found new ways to recognize the milestones in our lives – birthdays, marriages, and even how we mourn the death of someone important to us.
Our virtual school year is coming to a close, without a clear sense of what to expect in the fall when students return. There have been no student assemblies in which students walk across a stage to receive diplomas and certificates. Instead, they may walk to their mailboxes or participate in drive-through graduations and ceremonies. Our granddaughter will be having a drive through kindergarten graduation next week.
As difficult as this may be, the reality is that people are finding safe ways to mark these accomplishments, and to express their appreciation to the facility and staff of our schools. This last week, I read of students participating in drive by teacher appreciations. Friday, Batesville High School Seniors, on the evening of their scheduled graduation, decorated their vehicles and drove down Main Street to signs congratulating them.
People are creative and have found creative ways to celebrate important life events, to support one another, and to express their appreciation to others. There are many ways to be encouraging and cautious, as opposed to insensitive and reckless. Being cautious is not the same as being fearful, it is being mindful of the needs of others and of ourselves. St. Paul’s and the Episcopal Churches in Arkansas are being cautious. We understand that the many of our members are in the high-risk category and many of our facilities are not conducive to social distancing for large gatherings.
St. Paul’s will not rush to re-open. We want to address the health and safety needs of our members, so we have established a small group of vestry and other members to determine what is needed to provide us with a plan to safely reopen. Meanwhile, we will continue to worship as we are today, virtually, and we will monitor the pandemic data. When the time is right, we will re-open our doors.
Waiting requires patience, especially when we don’t know how long we will be required to wait. It also requires faith that what needs to happen will happen, and that it will happen when the time is right. Consider today’s gospel. Jesus has told his disciples what they might expect, he has told them he will be betrayed, arrested, crucified. Now, he is telling them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit who will fill their hearts that they might spread the gospel to all, Christ’s gospel of our Father’s infinite love and mercy. Jesus then says, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to be with you forever.” Not only is Jesus promising they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, he is promising that he, too, will be with them – even when he is not physically present. There is a great deal of theology packed into this passage – but today I want to focus how this scripture applies to our situation.
We are waiting for our lives to return to normal, but this experience has changed us. The good ole days are now a thing of the past and we do not know what to expect next. We do not know what the new normal will be. The disciples certainly don’t know. Much of what Jesus has said is frightening, much of it is beyond their comprehension. However, they have trusted Jesus enough so that they each of them has left behind their old life to follow him.
So, despite Peter denying he was with him a few times, despite all the disciples sequestering themselves and hiding after Jesus is arrested, the disciples are not able to return to the good ole days, to life as it once was. We’ll read more about this over the next couple of weeks.
Following instead on today’s gospel, we hear Jesus teaching his disciples one of the most important lessons they will need. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus says. All of his commandments can be summed up as: love God, love your neighbor, love yourself (remember he says to love our neighbors AS OURSELVES), and care for one another as Christ cares for us. Christ’s commandments are about love.
Love has many expressions, and right now, it involves caring for one another virtually. Calling people who we know are alone, reaching out to others who might be afraid. Caring for others means wearing a mask in public – and it may even mean staying at home.
We, like the disciples are waiting. We don’t fully know what to expect, nor do we know when it will happen. When will we be able to return to going out in public without a mask? When we be able to seat together, side by side, in worship without fear of spreading a deadly virus? We don’t know. But we do know that Jesus has promised he will abandon us.
The Holy Spirit is with us, Jesus is with us, and they will be with us forever. We are not alone; we are never alone. It is important to remember this and that what we are experiencing, like this life itself, is temporary. There will be a day when we our masks can be stored in a dresser drawer for future “special occasions.” There will be a day when all church doors are open. Until then, we will continue to worship God and to celebrate the lives and accomplishments of others in creative ways. And, we will continue to draw strength from love. Love is what makes it possible for us to keep Christ’s commandments and experience the gift of the Holy Spirit which is here to sustain us and give us strength.
Let us pray.
Loving God, you have filled our lives with your love. Help us to experience its life-giving power that we might find new and creative ways to share it with others. Keep us mindful of our neighbors and their needs that we might be an instrument of your love. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.