When we first cancelled our worship services and went to livestream only, I (and many of my fellow pastors) talked about how, when this was all over, we would have a BIG party at church. “Wouldn’t it be great if we were back together by Easter and could have a big church party then,” we said. And, as I like to say, “There ain’t no church party like a Church of the Redeemer church party!” I looked forward to that party as I learned how to Zoom.
Now here we are. Three months later. Things aren’t the same. And it’s going to be a while.
This Sunday, after three months of being apart, we have our first gathered worship service back in our sanctuary. It’s not going to be the big party that I hoped for three months ago. It’s going to be great, but it’s also going to be weird. After being apart for so long, it will be a great joy to see and physically worship with members of our family again. But we can’t and won’t all be together on Sunday and that is sad. I can’t wait for us to sing together – Oh, how I have missed that! But we’ll be singing with masks on and, in our abbreviated format and in an abundance of caution, we will only sing three songs instead of the normal five. That is disappointing.
I don’t know about you, but I was already a little tired of the phrase “the new normal” about two months ago. But here we now are. As our world begins to make the transition to “living with COVID-19,” it’s what we are all facing. Whether it’s going inside a favorite restaurant, back into the office, the dentist’s or the doctor’s, having some play dates for our kids again, or going to our socially-distanced neighborhood pool: things are just not the same. It is good. But it is different. It is a relief. But it is weird. It is a true blessing that many of us can begin to do this. It’s not (just?) about “the Economy.” The spiritual, relational, emotional, and psychological cost of being in isolation has increased month after month – even for those who are introverts. We were not created to live like that, but living like that is still tough.
In Ecclesiastes 3, God tells us that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” This Sunday, and in the weeks ahead, we might be doing all those things together on Sundays. So, this Sunday, and next week in our Daily Worship Devotions, we’ll be looking at a time God’s people both rejoiced and wept loudly when they were gathered together again in a special way after a long absence from “church.” It’s not just understandable or inevitable that some of us are in different places about whether, if, or how we can or should gather back together. It can actually be healthy and good. In Ezra 3, unlike in Nehemiah 8, those who were sad and weeping are not chastened or told to stop. As they worshiped, many were sad that things, particularly their worship gatherings, were not, and would not be the same as they were before. But as we have seen during our season of Leaning into Lament, tears, sadness, conflict, and frustration can be deep and special worship – when we take it to God together and not out on each other.
So, whether it will be from home or in the church building (remember to reserve your seat via the link in Pastor Bob’s email), as you prepare for Corporate Worship this Sunday, take some time to read and reflect on Ezra 3:8-13. If you have time, compare and contrast Ezra 3 with the events that come later in Nehemiah 8. As always, wherever you will be, I look forward to worshiping our great God together with you.
Yours in Christ’s love,