Jeremiah 28:5-9, Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18, Matthew 10:40-42
Welcome! Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me.” The gospel reading continues, but I want to take a moment to reflect on these words. The apostle Paul introduced an important concept to us when he spoke of us, together, being the body of Christ in the world today. Everyone of us has a role to fulfill as members of this body of Christ. Today, it is worshiping the one who created, redeemed, and sustains us. Whether we are physically together or not, we are gathered to give thanks to the Lord, our God, and we are lifting our concerns and prayers for others to our God.
When we are gathered together, we speak of this as corporate worship, meaning we are worshiping together as a community. Since March, our corporate worship has been online. But long before that, the Episcopal Church found a way to worship together from all parts of the world. We do this by reading the same scriptures and praying the same prayers no matter where we are worshipping. Our common lectionary provides our reading for the day and our Book of Common Prayer unites us in our prayers. We praise God and lift up our concerns from all parts of the world as we say Morning Prayer and participate in Sunday Services.
After celebrating the Eucharist on Easter, I heard from a number of members you wanted me to continue to do so even though I could not distribute the bread and wine to others. Listening to you, I realized the symbols of the bread and wine of communion are more important than the actual bread and wine. A symbol evokes feelings, and communion helps us feel Christ’s presence – whether or not we partake of the elements.
I do know that as I celebrate today, some of you will furnish and partake of your own bread and wine. This is reminiscent of the early days of Christianity, where people would gather for an agape meal. “Agape” is a Greek world for love, the type of love that is unselfish and given without freely. Others of you are content to receive communion in spirit. Regardless of how you are participating today, what is important is that we welcome Christ by opening our hearts to experience his presence.
We have come together as the body of Christ to welcome the one who invites us in a relationship with him and who sends us out to love and serve the Lord. Thus, communion is a lesson in hospitality. We are welcomed into a relationship with Christ so we can welcome others. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” Jesus says. Communion is thus symbolic of a way of life- the way of love, as PB Michael tells us. As we welcome others into our lives, we welcome Christ.
This is a lesson on hospitality and those listening to Jesus understand hospitality is a virtue. They had been taught that welcoming strangers was tantamount to welcoming God. Jewish scriptures teach us that hospitality is one of God’s traits we are called to emulate. After being freed from Egypt, the people of Israel depend on God’s hospitality for bread, for meat, and for water on their journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy, they are commanded to “You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (10:19).”
In the ancient world, sharing a communal meal created a bond, and it was considered intimate act. This is why Jewish leaders reacted as they did to Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors. By sharing a meal with those who others rejected, Jesus teaches us to respect the dignity of all human being.
In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks of giving a cup of cold water “to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple.” Little ones, or children, were considered less than, so teaching his disciples to be hospitable to children was another example of Jesus coming to share God’s love with everyone, not just the prophets and disciples.
In the Old Testament, there are stories of God appearing as a stranger to Abraham, to Lot, to Gideon, and to the parents of Samson. In these stories, the righteous men and women offer hospitality to these strangers by feeding them – not knowing they are angels of the Lord.
“Whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me,” Jesus says. One of the greatest challenges of this pandemic for us as the body of Christ has been to welcome anyone – friends or strangers. Even when we are together, we need to stand a part. It feels wrong not to walk in and shake hands or hug, but maintaining our distance is an act of love. We were created to live in community and so we are having to learn how we can do so without risking spreading the Corona virus.
It is a challenge during this pandemic to limit our risk to what we believe to be a reasonable level. With the proper precautions in place, I believe we can now reopen our church doors for worship. So, next Sunday, barring a significant change in the rate of infection in Independence County, we will open the red doors for you to attend in person. Our experience of church; however, will be very different than before as we strive to keep one another safe.
What is a reasonable risk for some, is not for others. Thus, I strongly encourage anyone who is consisted high risk to stay home and continue to attend our broadcast service at 10:30. Having said that, I want to share the measures we will be taking next week to prevent the spread of the Corona virus.
We will have someone taking the temperature of everyone entering the church. Masks will be required and must be worn for the whole service. Seating will be limited to ensure that people sit six feet apart. The service will be shorter and there will be no congregational singing. We have members who will sanitize the pews after each service and we will not pass the offering plate (it will be placed on a table by the entrance). The designated seats for the 8:00 and 10:30 services will be different.
We are opening our doors because the infection rate is minimal in our county, but this could change quickly. If we follow the CDC and State guidelines, and the infection rate remains low, we will be able to continue to worship together and online for the remainder of this pandemic.
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us that to follow you is to show hospitality to all. Help us to love others as you love us and to demonstrate this love by doing what we can to reduce the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus to others. Be present with those who are sick, with those caring for them, those in isolation, and those who are lonely. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.