Months ago, I began my weekly letter with the phrase, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." That was at a time last fall when we were in a COVID surge, and it seemed that nothing would ever help turn things around. I am so thankful to be writing to you today from a very different perspective.
This morning's news brought word that things may, in fact, be slowly turning around. With more widespread vaccinations, schools moving into Phase 1 and 2 of returning students to school buildings in a hybrid face-to-face and virtual model, and the longer days with more sunshine to soak up, I am starting to feel more and more hope that we are finally beginning to see the fruits of our long-borne labor. I remember hearing a lot of different groups of folks saying that our goal was to get to the "end" of COVID-19 and say that perhaps we over-reacted because to think we over-reacted would mean we had done everything we could to stop the spread of the virus and keep ourselves and each other safe. If we have over-reacted in order to get ourselves to this point, then I rejoice, because we are here. I think a better way to look at it would be the words of Psalm 121 (Common English Bible):
I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. God won’t let your foot slip. Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job. No! Israel’s protector never sleeps or rests! The Lord is your protector; the Lord is your shade right beside you. The sun won’t strike you during the day; neither will the moon at night. The Lord will protect you from all evil; God will protect your very life. The Lord will protect you on your journeys— whether going or coming— from now until forever from now.
I love this translation of Psalm 121 from the Common English Bible for the very last line: "from now until forever from now." It makes me think of a couple of things:
1. There has not ever been and there will not ever be a time when God is not God of all things, and
2. No matter the journey on which I find myself, God will protect me.
And I could add a third reaching back to verse 2: "My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth." These theological claims are at the core of what we believe as Christians. They remind us that there is nothing that can be that is outside the realm of God AND that God is here to be our help. God is here to be our help! Little tiny us; receiving all that we need from great big God! And wherever we go, on whatever journey we end up, we are always near to the heart of God.
So, I'm feeling hopeful today! I'm feeling like whether or not we over-reacted, under-reacted, or struck a good balance in between, God has continued with us on this journey and will continue with us "from now until forever from now."
Soon we will be gathering in small groups again. During Holy week, we are planning several opportunities for us to gather and see each other's masked faces! Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday (see schedule below) will be times for us to contemplate the holiest days of the Christian year while also thinking back on the year since last Easter--the year in which we have had to rely on God's faithfulness and work on building a stronger relationship with and reliance on God for our help. One day all of this will all be in the past, but God's love and faithfulness to us is the same. And I don't want to forget all that we have experienced and learned during this pandemic. Whether or not we are prospering or struggling, God is the same. Whether or not we understand what's happening around us or are still working on figuring it out, God's wisdom is always available to us. Whether we have just started or have journeyed many a mile with God as our companion, God's faithfulness is from now til forever from now.
Emory has an unofficial mascot which is a skeleton named Dooley. Dooley has taken on lots of personality traits over the decades. He has played different roles in campus life, such as cancelling classes during spirit week (sometimes by pointing a water gun at the professor!) to greeting President Jimmy Carter at the Town Hall meetings held annually at one time on Emory's campus. But there is a signature line that all correspondence Dooley shares with any group who is lucky enough to encounter him face to skeleton-face: "Presidents may come, and presidents may go. Professors may come, and professors may go. Students may come, and students may go. But Dooley lives on forever."
Here's my version for today:
Shutdowns may come (sometimes we need them!), and shutdowns may go (thank the Lord!). Viruses may come, and viruses may go. Frustration may come, and frustration may go. But God's love and faithfulness live on from now until forever from now.
I look forward to continuing on into better days ahead with you in the next few weeks. I pray we never forget how much we need God to get us through. And may we always remember that whether we are going or coming, God is with us. We are neither forgotten or alone. Thanks be to God!
Holy Week Worship:
Holy Thursday, April 1: 7:00 pm
Holy Communion in the front parking lot. Bring your chairs (socially distanced) or stay in your car and share and join in the telling of the story of Christ's last supper with the disciples. Bring Your Own Elements!
Good Friday, April 2:
Noon - 3 pm: Stations of the Cross
Drive-thru in the back parking lot, or walk-thru in the front parking lot. Seven stations remind us of the story of Christ's arrest, trial, and crucifixion.
7:00 pm: Telling The Crucifixion Story
Gather in the front parking lot for a reader's theatre - style experience of the Passion Story. Bring your chair (social distanced) or stay in your car to experience this re-telling of the story.
Easter Sunday, April 4: 10:00 am
Resurrection Celebration! Bring your chair (social distanced) or stay in your car for this celebration in Word, song, and prayer as we proclaim, "Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed!"