Dear friends in Christ,
As we navigate a new reality, I have heard a number of people referring to the time in terms of B.C. (“before coronavirus”) and the current era. It really does seem like the beginning of March, before “stay at home orders” and “social distancing” were part of our vocabulary, was a hundred years ago. We are living through a major shift in our world and it takes some time to find our footing.
At first, we were hopeful that a two-week hiatus from activity would quell the virus’ spread, but as the end of March drew near and the number of cases just kept going up, it became clear that April would also be affected. Bishop Macholz sent a letter urging churches to remain on hiatus through May 15th. For churches that raised the huge question of: What to do about Easter? Is Easter something you can reschedule?
Fortunately Easter comes whether or not we do anything about it. Jesus Christ will be raised from the dead and life will triumph over death, even if our worship services and traditions can’t happen in the same way. And God can bring new life even from places and situations that look hopeless. In some way, this is the precise time our faith has something to say: that even when it looks like the world is ending and God has forsaken us, that is the very moment when God is actually most present: in the courageous care our health care providers are giving to those who are ill, in the tireless work done by those providing essential services, in the hard choice to set aside our own restlessness and stay home for the health of others.
It’s a challenging time, don’t get me wrong. Our ways of coping (staying busy) and the ways we demonstrate God’s love—showing up and being there for others—have now become a source of worry, as we don’t know who might be passing the virus to whom. Now is the time to find new ways to care for each other, and not to lose heart.
Caring for Each Other
I sent a letter to our mailing list a few weeks ago, sharing opportunities for connecting like coloring pictures for the elderly, volunteering to run simple errands for those in need, and calling to check on the people you might not have seen for a while. If you didn’t get this letter and would like more information, please let us know. Also in this issue of the Chatter, you will find information on the current ministry of the Verona Food Pantry and the Rome Rescue Mission.
What About Worship?
Those of you with Internet access, I hope you’ve had a chance to check out our Sunday worship experiences on YouTube, which we are also posting on Facebook. These are approximately 30 minutes and include prayers, readings, sermon, and music. If you subscribe to our channel and turn on notifications (click the bell), you’ll get a note every time we go live. Reloading the page also helps. We are also experimenting with evening prayer on Wednesdays using Zoom for a more interactive experience, and on Fridays at 12:15 pm I go live on our Facebook page with some initial thoughts on the coming Sunday. If you’re on our email list, please make sure you are seeing my emails with links to these things.
Those of you without Internet access, I’ve created a simple order of worship that you can use at home as long as you have a Bible. You’ll find it later in the Chatter.
What about Holy Week?
- Palm Sunday, April 5—we will post a worship video on YouTube and Facebook in the morning. For this we need your help! Color one or both of the palm branch coloring sheets found in this issue of the Chatter, take a photo of yourself or someone else holding them, and send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Saturday, April 4 at 9:00 am. We will incorporate the photos into our worship video as a virtual “palm parade”! Also consider placing some kind of greenery arrangement on your front door that makes use of whatever branches you might have (they don’t have to be palms!).
- During the Week—watch your email and your mailbox for daily devotional moments that you can use anytime at home.
- Also during this whole week—we will be creating a worship space outside our building for individuals taking a walk or remaining in their car for prayer. The large cross will be up with thumbtacks and elastic cord—feel free to write a note, a word, a prayer, create a picture, a flower, a craft, whatever you want, and come and put it on the cross. Bring an Easter lily or other potted plant, or maybe a painted rock, and place it either by the cross or near the bell tower to create a beautiful place for rest, prayer and reflection. (Please make sure to maintain physical distance from anybody else who might be in our parking lot at the time.)
- Maundy Thursday, April 9—The gospel reading for this service is the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, but in these days, handwashing is a true sign of love for your neighbor. We hope to create a devotional video of people washing their hands, so take a picture or a brief video of you or someone in your family washing their hands and send it to me at email@example.com.
- Good Friday, April 10—Our Tenebrae service includes the reading of the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion and the extinguishing of candles. We’ll do the same this year with people in various locations. If you can take video of yourself reading a Scripture passage and blowing out a candle, please let me know ASAP at firstname.lastname@example.org. Most cell phones that can take photos can take videos.
- Easter Vigil, April 11—There is some conversation around a synod-wide Easter Vigil service to be created online. If this doesn’t happen, I have some ideas of what else to offer digitally. If you’re interested, make sure you are subscribed to our email updates and I’ll send more info when I have it.
- Easter Morning, April 12—We have some special things planned for our Easter morning worship video, so please tune in on YouTube or Facebook if you are able!
Remember that Easter is longer than just a day—it’s actually a season of fifty days. And by the grace of God, I hope we will be able to safely gather before that season is past. Whenever we are reunited as a church family, that’s when it will truly feel like Easter, as the body of Christ comes together again with new life!
It’s easy to feel disconnected from your church family at this time, so if that’s happening to you, I encourage you to pick up the phone or the pen and reach out to someone. Sending a card, calling or texting someone on the phone, these are all powerful ways to show someone you care from a distance. If I can help you or someone else feel more connected, please let me know. You can email me at email@example.com.
I look forward to seeing you all on the other side of this. What a blessed day that will be!
Together in Christ,