But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
-- Jeremiah 31:33 (with a near exact repeat in Hebrews 10:16)
After those days. We are the people after those days. Or at least we are getting there. As I write this, we have reported no new cases of COVID-19 in the last seven days in Mathews County for the first time in a long time! (See later in the newsletter for news about what we will be doing with worship and ministry in these days.) How have those days – the days of pandemic – changed you and changed our church? Do you feel the law of God more deeply written on your heart? Do you know better than ever that you are God’s own child?
What has changed? And how are you reacting? I know, for myself, the deep importance of relationships with family, friends, and church has been written large. And the rushing from one activity to the next to do something “worthy” seems much less attractive. How will I make sure I have time to be with the people God has given me to love in this life and not feel I have to prove myself good enough by keeping busy? What can I change to be more present to God and God’s people?
For some time now, I have been praying and reading and struggling for an answer. I have been having rich and wonderful discussions with some of you in our Adult Class on Coming out of Exile. So what am I -- what are we – supposed to DO differently? There have been no great epiphanies with clear answers. Change is coming; change has come; but it all is happening at its own pace and in its own fashion. I am not in control. And recently, this is what I discovered: God has written on my heart. God has written in your heart, too. Just listen each day, read your heart as you prepare for every decision you make. And remember that you and all your beloved are God’s people.
As we gather back for in-person worship indoors, I still hold a little fear that we will be part of another COVID outbreak. I harbor fear about how I and we are going to miss many folks who have died or moved away more deeply when we see the empty pews and chairs. I wonder if some of our ministries that have not been happening may not be the ministries we are called to do in this new day. I am sad to know that a few church members have been angry and disappointed that I and our Bishop have held to the CDC guidelines for safety through the pandemic. In a time of political polarities, we have God’s deep reconciliation to work out with fear and trembling, forgiveness, and hope for the Unity of the Holy Spirit.
I could be overwhelmed by the negative now as we come out of pandemic; the exile of pandemic may be ending, but the new world emerging is still daunting and full of possible trouble. There are so many positives as well! We have survived as individuals and as a church! We not only survived, but we have lived out being the church in so many ways – helping the community, worshipping, praying – with flexibility and faithfulness. People have offered their financial support for our work in so many ways; we are not out of the financial woods completely as a church, but your generous faithfulness is an inspiration and will enable us to do the work of ministry in the days to come. We have learned new things, grown in faith, deepened our connections to one another. Even on zoom we have grown community! We have added new members and are finding a new energy to welcome and find more new members. We are a stronger, more faithful church because of what we have been through together. We were faithful in those days and God is doing new things with us now in these days! It is still hard to guess where we are headed and how we will get there, but we have people to love, the poor and broken to care for, and a God to worship and follow. And as we struggled together through those dark days, the deepest truths of all creation have been written with the divine hand on our hearts. May we go forth from those days and into these days as God’s own people!
The Very Rev. Gary Barker