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As I looked over the bulletin in my office, I heard the faint sound of our front doorbell ringing. I have missed that sound. Before the pandemic, the ringing of that bell meant activity. It meant people coming to say hello or someone with a weary soul longed to meet the compassion of a human face and the comfort of a human word. I’m ashamed to say for a moment I was annoyed. I’ve got things to do. The service is about to begin. What could someone possibly want?

As I opened the door, I was met by Rosalee, an older member who had walked through the wind and cold to the church office. “Hello, Josh. John and I gave the flowers for today’s sanctuary service, and we’d very much like to see them.” All the COVID-19 protocols came flooding into my mind at once. If someone hears that we let Rosalee and John into the sanctuary, what would they say? I thought it was probably best to let her know that she could view the flowers on our livestream. I was surprised when I heard myself saying to her, “Follow me.”

I watched as Rosalee’s face lit up as she moved through the vacant sanctuary. Once a place echoing of organ and prelude chatter, the sanctuary on Sundays has become quieter, devoid of that feeling of fullness that accompanied the moments before the call to worship. Rosalee sauntered slowly toward the chancel, where just above the communion table an assortment of flowers rested below the cross. “I was hoping they had found some tulips and dandelions,” she said.

“Oh, how beautiful,” she said. “Thank you for letting me see these, and how wonderful to see you.”

Rosalee and John had given the flowers in honor of their parents — people who died long ago, people I’ve not had the pleasure of knowing. To enter the sanctuary and to see the flowers was for them a practice in dignity, in the celebration of life in the midst of death. During the service that day I found myself gazing over at Rosalee’s flowers. Such a simple reminder of life amid death, of the persistence of beauty amid suffering and pain.

It occurred to me that I have spent most Sundays during the pandemic with a noisy heart. I’ve been worried about how many people are really watching, worried about whether I really had put enough time and energy into the weary words I mutter from the lonely pulpit, worried about the smoothness of the liturgical transitions as they are broadcast on Vimeo, Facebook and YouTube. But Rosalee’s delight in her flowers stirred within me a small yet apocalyptic reminder: God is alive. God is alive in this empty space. God is alive in the living rooms of my congregants who watch the service in their pajamas. God is alive on the Zoom screen. God’s presence blossoms even now, especially now, not in the grandiose or the spectacular, but in the stillness that is the midwife of awe and wonder.

I saw in Rosalee the image of the God who years ago with a still, small voice called me into this strange vocation that is ministry. I saw God entering into all that is empty and without. I watched as God admired the roses, the dandelions and the tulips dressed in their brilliant pinks and bright oranges. There under the cross, a symbol of death and suffering, God reminded me that new things are bound to bloom, if only I have the eyes to see them.