Several weeks ago, in order to keep our neighbors and ourselves safe, we stopped gathering at Redeemer, but the church never closed. Buildings can be padlocked, but God’s spirit and the good will of people cannot be constrained. Thank you for understanding the difference, both before COVID-19 and now.
Thank you for believing that God is present, even when you are alone at the kitchen table. Thank you for discovering new ways to connect with each other, and remembering some long forgotten ones. Thank you for ringing bells and banging pots and driving by to wave. Thank you for continuing to reach out whenever you sense a need, both down your own hallway and down some new street. Thank you for the masks made and donated, the food purchased and served, the Covenant Fund support shared with community partners, the organizing for education and health equity. Thank you for being a part of online worship services, for your patience and sense of humor as we invent ways to make ancient practices fit these extraordinary times. Our doors may be closed, but your hearts are broken open to God’s healing grace. Thank you for sharing it.
Not too long ago I began to ask people what they missed about Redeemer and what they thought was most essential about it, as we reimagine our church. I have heard about community, a place of trust and safety. I’ve heard about a shared sense of purpose and time carved out to talk about what really matters. I’ve heard about making music together, in all its rich variety, and of sacred rituals that help make sense of scattered lives. I’ve heard about finding God, and being found, and about the palpable longing for a handshake and a hug. I’ve heard about a Way that serves the common good and delivers us from our selfishness.
This morning I got a note from a friend who is sad and wondering when we’ll be together again at church. I wrote back, “We will go very slowly. It is distressing that even opening churches has become politicized. But we have remained “open” throughout this time… I miss the gathering, too, the being together, the hugs and affection, communion. And I have been overjoyed at the ways that individuals and families, streets and neighbors have reached out to help and connect with each other. We’ve remembered that the call to worship God is in fact a call to serve humanity, that God is praised when folks who are cast down are being raised up. We’ve remembered that when we stop to listen to others and to the still, small voice inside us, that healing begins. When we see each other again, I hope our eyes won’t be as likely to settle for superficialities or snap judgments—that we will carry with us our rediscovered longing to know God, to know each other, and to be fully known ourselves. We have lost a lot through this time of sickness and separation—but I hope we also have lost our easy willingness to accept the status quo when it benefits the few over the many. There has been dying, and the individual deaths are always difficult to face and accept—but I hope we won’t soon forget what our eyes now see: the ways of being that we had come to embody before the pandemic, like inequality and injustice with regard to healthcare and housing and education. Those unfair ways were as death-dealing as any virus, and only through facing that truth and making change will the rising come. That is God’s dream for us, I believe, that we all can rise. For me, the essential quality about Redeemer is that we are committed to lifting up each other and our city.”
We will not gather physically until health providers tell us it is safe to do so, as weeks turn into months. And yet I have never felt so close to you.