Dispatches from the (COVID-19) front

Everything is the same.

I walked outside and pollen covered my car, birds were chirping and I noticed all the yardwork that needs to be done. Azaleas are blooming. Spring has sprung. It is a beautiful time of year. Not too cold and not too hot yet.

Everything has changed.

I walked from my pollen-covered car into a Saturday morning session meeting (my first ever) and 24 hours later we were holding a church service in the sanctuary void of any congregation members while everybody participated online from home.

Everything was the same. We used the bulletins as they had been prepared. We had a prayer of confession, we sang the hymns and responses we had planned, we had an offering, and prayers for the people and our world. We had flowers given without the thought of them being primarily for an online service.

Everything has changed. We didn’t have time to distribute the words of all the hymns. We had limited music leadership. No one had much time to prepare. We had to cancel a baptism and instead reaffirm our baptismal vows. I still can’t believe it has come to this, and yet I wish we had known to start doing this sooner.

Everything is the same. Everything has changed.

We will bury a dear saint of the church tomorrow. She was a teacher who loved reading and enjoyed serving as the steward of our church library. She was beloved by all and feared by all. Feared in a good way. She was a voracious reader and learner and citizen of the world who will be missed by her church family fiercely. And we won’t be able to give her a proper funeral and send-off until much, much later. Instead, we hold onto our grief and her memory a little longer and we refuse to let COVID-19 have the last word or keep us from remembering that she belonged to Jesus Christ in life and in death.

Everything is the same. Everything has changed.

On Sunday in our online worship, as we reaffirmed our baptismal vows, I changed the words that we normally use for the children of the church to be asked at a baptism, reworded them and asked them of the whole congregation:

Do you promise to tell our world about the love of Jesus Christ? We do.
If any of us cries, will you comfort them? We will.
If any of us falls, will you help them get up? We will.
If any of us lose our way, will you hold our hand? We will.

Everything has changed. Everything is still the same.

We belong to God through all this and we have special ways we can be the church through all this. The last time I saw this person in her nursing home room, I touched her on the forehead with many unspoken words bundled up in that gesture: I wanted to remind her she was a beloved child of God, I wanted her to remember her baptism and be grateful and I wanted her to know I would see her again in better circumstances.

Everything has changed, but in the everlasting arms of God, everything is the same.