Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. 
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes.
How do you measure? Measure a year?
In daylights? In sunsets? In midnights? In cups of coffee? In inches? In miles? In laughter? In strife?
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure a year in a life?

    This song, Seasons of Love, from the Broadway musical Rent, has been going through my head all week. That’s because it has been almost exactly five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes since we were together for worship in this room.

    One year ago today was our last in-person service in the church. We knew then it would likely be the last time we were together for a while, maybe even for several weeks. I daresay no one among us could have predicted that a year would pass and we would still be away from this sacred space we all love.

    How do you measure this extraordinary year in our lives?

    In death tolls? In jobs lost? In zoom calls and face masks? In distance? In absence? In missed gatherings?

    In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure this year of quarantine?

    Loss certainly is the first thing I think of when reflecting on the past year. There has been at least one life lost to Covid in this country for each of those five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. Millions more have been sick and hospitalized. Some continue to live with the after effects of this virus for months.

    We have been so fortunate not to have any deaths or severe illnesses from Covid in our congregation so far, but the list of names we will read in a few minutes of those who have died from the virus show that many of us have been touched by the loss of someone we love.

    Even those of us who have not felt that ultimate loss personally have still experienced loss.

    Many jobs disappeared. Others changed dramatically as offices moved to homes and business travel stopped. 

    Our kids have missed graduations and proms and all the other milestones of high school and college life. They have missed studying abroad, school plays, concerts, and athletics. 

    Students of all ages have missed being in classrooms with their friends and teachers, have missed the relationships that can be as important as academic knowledge. Teachers have been forced to become online experts overnight and at times have had to balance teaching online and in person at the same time.

    We’ve missed holiday gatherings — beginning with Easter last year, and continuing through Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

    We’ve missed celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries. We’ve seen even weddings and funerals be postponed or held with just a handful of people.

    We’ve missed hugging grandparents and grandchildren, dinners out with friends, going to football and baseball games and concerts.

    And we’ve missed church — receiving communion, passing the peace, singing hymns, hugging friends.

    So many times this year I have been both thankful for and frustrated by the gifts of technology. We’ve held classes and meetings and gatherings of friends over Zoom, where we could at least see each other’s faces.

    We’ve learned to stream services over Facebook Live, and learned that we can indeed form a community of sorts through shared online worship on Sunday mornings and weeknight Complines.

    Imagine what this year would have been like without technology. But it cannot take the place of in-person relationships. After a year it still pains me to be in this sacred space on Sunday mornings without you.

    It pains me not to be with you before you have surgery, to not be able to take communion to you, to rely on phone calls and emails and texts instead of personal visits. 

    The liturgical calendar may say that in the past five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes we have been through Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany and back to Lent again, but the truth is that these last 12 months have felt like one long Lent, one long slog through the wilderness.

    It has been a year of loss and grief, of stress and anxiety — and it has affected us all in ways that we may not yet fully understand.

    And we need to honor that. We need to be able to say that it has been — and still is — hard. We shouldn’t gloss over what we have been through, and continue to experience — even though better times are visible on the horizon.

    But we also need to acknowledge that we have survived the past year, that we have seen each other through, and that God has been present with us even in the hardest times.

    I picked scriptures and hymns for today that reflect that truth.

    “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off,” God tells the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah. “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you.”

    “The Lord is near,” we hear in Philippians. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

    And finally, from Jesus we hear, “Come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

    The common theme here is that we are not in this alone. God is with us.

    For me, the way I most often feel or see God’s presence is through the events and people around me — through all of you. And you have reflected God’s presence in so many ways this year.

    God’s presence has shone through in your concern for those in our community who are experiencing increased financial difficulties through the pandemic. God’s presence is there in the mountains of food you have given to the food pantries, and in the financial donations we have made to them.

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