Wow. I could stand here and look at your beautiful masked faces all day.
Even though all I can see are eyes and foreheads, I can see your joy in being back together again. And I hope those of you who are watching online also feel a sense of joy to see your friends and fellow parishioners pop up on your computer screens this morning.
It has been seven months, almost to the day, since we last gathered in person to worship together. That’s 31 Sundays and 152 services of Compline.
Since last we’ve gathered we have been through Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. We’ve lived through spring, summer, and now well into fall.
As I said in an email earlier this week the new liturgical season of Coronatide is the longest season the Church has ever experienced. And it’s not over yet.
There are people I’d like to thank for their continued work and faithfulness through this long season. Cameron had been on the job just six weeks when the pandemic hit, making choir practice impossible and any singing at all difficult.
Time and time again we’ve had to figure out new ways to bring the liturgy to life. HIs beautiful music has helped make that happen. Thank you, Cameron.
And thanks to Claudia, who has shuffled between working from home and the office, putting together beautiful bulletins for each Sunday that are easy to access and follow on line, and still keep track of all the things she normally does when she is at the church fulltime. Claudia always goes the extra mile, and I am grateful to work with her.
Then there is the vestry, who have been guided by two questions throughout this pandemic: how do we best serve God by caring for our own parishioners, and how do we best serve God by caring for others in our community. They have been willing to step out in faith in uncertain times, showing true leadership and faithfulness.
I thank those who spent their Saturday morning setting up for today’s service — Bob Longino, Bruce Lafitte, Michele Smither, Nancy Dillon, and Lucy and Jace Kaltenbach. They swept and blew leaves, moved furniture, marked properly-distanced spaces for each of you to stand and sit, made a seating chart, and put together and tested microphones and speakers.
And of course, I thank Joe and Joseph Henry. Joseph Henry figured out the technology that allowed us to stream worship online, even how to insert prerecorded videos into a livestream.
Joe has been my partner in Compline each evening, the lector for every Sunday service, and took up the challenge of being cameraman when Joseph Henry went back to college. As always, they carried out these extra jobs that come from being a clergy spouse or child without complaint, and I am grateful.
And finally, I am thankful for each and every one of you — those who are here in person today and those who are watching online. I’ve read many dire predictions about what the pandemic will do to churches — that many will not survive, that people will realize that they like staying home on Sunday mornings, that churches will no longer be relevant.
The writers of those predictions do not know you. Time and again I have been amazed at your faithfulness — in your care for one another, in your faithful participation in new ways of worshipping, in your support of those in need in our community, and in your continued financial support of the church.
You have stayed faithful and committed through it all, and time and time again you have made me humbled and grateful to be your priest.
Most of the time through this long pandemic our Old Testament readings have been from the Book of Exodus, the story of God’s liberation of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and their journey to the Promised Land.
Most of Exodus takes place in the wilderness, in that in-between time and space between redemption from slavery and the long-promised land of their own.
The wilderness is an apt metaphor for where we find ourselves in these long months, when each day seems a bit uncertain, when the specter of illness hangs over our heads.
Wilderness is not only a place, it can be a state of mind, a time where it can be difficult to sort out perceptions and reality, where nothing seems certain.
It’s a place where our illusions that we are in control are stripped bare, where the structures and routines that form and support our lives are suddenly gone. It’s a place of uncertainty and chaos, where anxiety abounds.
In the wilderness the Israelites ask the question: Is the Lord among us or not?
We, too, may be asking that question.
Life in the wilderness is difficult and uncertain, but throughout Exodus just when the people have hit their limit, God provides just what they need to carry on.
Manna miraculously appears each morning, water springs forth from unexpected places. They are given laws, or commandments, to shape how they are to live with one another and with God.
When it seems all is lost, God provides an oasis, gifts that allow them to continue.
To me, this time together today feels like an oasis.
Last week, I so identified with our second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, which begins, “My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for…”
I have longed to see you these last long months. Today it is such a gift to see at least some of you face to face, to hear your voices, to be able to put the Eucharist in your hands with our newly-acquired Eucharistic pincers. I hope this feels like an oasis to you, too.
But here’s the thing about oases. They provide comfort and rest for weary souls. But they are not a place to stay for long. The rest, refreshment, and renewal they offer give the people strength to go back into the wilderness again.
We are here at this oasis this morning. And I hope we will be able to gather like this for weeks to come. But we are still in the wilderness.
The pandemic is not over. This week we passed the 8 million mark in cases and are closing in on 220,000 deaths since March.
There is no miracle cure, no vaccine on the immediate horizon. Credible scientists and public health officials warn that illness and death will increase dramatically as we head into the late fall and winter months.
We are still in Coronatide. Still in times of uncertainty and danger. It is not time to take off our masks and let down our guard, to give in to the temptation to believe the lies of our leaders who say we have turned the corner, that the worst is past.
But today we rejoice that even though we have been scattered for seven months, we are still together, still a community of faith, still the body of Christ doing God’s work in the world.
Today we rejoice that the Lord is indeed with us, and has given us one another to see each other through until we reach the Promised Land,