Hello Church Family, this is Pastor Phil!
This time, last year, we were in the parking lot together celebrating Easter. Do you remember how windy it was that Easter Sunday when we had our first drive-through communion service?! Shiloh was trying to hold on to the paper plates and my stoles wouldn’t stop whipping me in the face. Our ministry leaders were out there directing traffic and moving us along. I never thought that in all of my time as a pastor I would be handing our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Sacrament through your car windows on paper plates. Now it has been become a routine way for us to care for each other in our church family with the variety of needs we have. But we learned that, whether I used paper plates or our sacramental trays to share Holy Communion, it is still Jesus there in the promise of His Body and Blood, given and shed for you, giving His eternal promises to each of us.
Do you remember that first parking lot worship we had, and we were getting horizontal rain just blasting away at us? I couldn’t even hold the bulletin and an umbrella at the same time. Everything was drenched. As a whole the whole parking lot service was such a new and slightly odd experience for all of us. Everyone worked so hard to get that up and running. There were so many moving parts and details to manage: figuring out the best place to park Justin’s truck for our mobile pulpit, Jeff working tirelessly to get our sound system running, the best way to do bulletins and prayer requests, our elders and staff running around the parking lot trying to connect with everyone, how to connect with the Sunday School children, moving everyone in and out, doing communion, so much behind the scenes, altar guild making the necessary changes, music, dealing with the weather, and meeting everyone’s dog. But it worked and we kept doing it all Summer and into the Fall. After not seeing each other for so long, just being able to wave at each other through the car windows was a blessing. If I was taking too long waving at everyone, Wayne would honk his horn at me and tell me to get moving. We learned that, even if we were doing worship in our parking lot transmitting over the car radio, it is still Jesus there giving His eternal promises to each of us.
Then we had the opportunity to move to two services—one car service and one inside service—again, to meet the needs of all of our people as best as we could. It was a blessing to be able to have worship inside once again; even if it wasn’t all of us, it was nice to start having that sense of normalcy come back. For our church family who couldn’t come inside we continued to have worship in the parking lot as well. That took some doing for everyone to pull off, doubling up on everything we did and figuring out how to make it work: dealing with the finances, music ministry, and more, but the church leaders did an awesome job rolling with the punches and making solutions. Then we had the last official parking lot service and of course, it was raining just like our first parking lot service. Figures, right?
Then we still wanted the best opportunities for our church family, so we offered two worship services and Sunday School inside to continue to keep us spread out while our elders faithfully wiped down every pew for worship with Lysol wipes. Then we were able to add a radio transmission into the parking lot during the indoor services. I hadn’t seen Jeff running around so quickly trying to get all of the sound working properly as I had that day. We went from doubling to tripling how we did things and then, when some restrictions lifted, we went from tripling to doubling, one inside and one outside together. Closer to our sense of normalcy, not yet there, but getting closer. We learned, no matter what combination we were working with, it is still Jesus there giving His eternal promises to each of us.
Along this road, some of our very dear friends, family, and loved ones were rescued from the illness and hurt of this world and brought to be with their Lord Jesus in Heaven. Many of their names are on our remembrance board in the narthex but, because of our Savior Jesus, we must remember that our loved ones who died in the Lord are not in our past anymore, but they are in our future, waiting for us now to get there and be reunited with all of the Saints who have gone before us. As your pastor, I still struggle with all of the limitations that were placed on me when our loved ones were sick and dying and I wasn’t allowed to be there. I couldn’t be there when my grandfather was dying during COVID. It breaks my heart still.
As a Church family, we’ve had to work really hard to keep in touch with each other apart from seeing each other in worship as we were accustomed to. One Call Now twice a week, every-member calls, elder calls, emergency calls, Sunday school and youth calls, emails, texting—lots of texting, wonderful cards from our magnificent ladies of Mary Martha, Facebook, Sunday School videos, confirmation videos, recording and posting more videos, Facebook Live, Streaming, more texting (did I mention texting?), anything that could be done to reach out and keep us connected as a family. We learned that, in all of the communication methods we used, it is still Jesus there giving His eternal promises to each of us.
Here we are today, Easter Sunday once again. Not quite back to our sense of normal, but a lot farther than we were a year ago. Each and every one of us are reeling and dealing with all of the changes of the past year. It is so hard sometimes to find our stability and our center. We are in the middle of being hopeful and being cautious and knowing that each of us actually tend to lean one way or the other or feel somewhere stuck in the middle. We are grieving, not only loved ones who have gone to be with our Lord, but grieving how things used to be, grieving changes we didn’t want or expect, grieving how life used to be. With grief, all of the feelings that go with that—anger, tears, frustration, blame, hurt, confusion—so much a roller coaster of emotions that sometimes we just want to get off of the ride, please. It will never be how it was; it just won’t. That’s not how grief or loss work, and we don’t get over it, that’s not fair to think we will or to be told to, because it doesn’t work. Life is, and will be, different and our role is to walk into the different and live this stage of life that we have been given. But in all of the changes and chances of life this past year, it is still Jesus here, always here giving His eternal promises to each of us.
That is what Easter Sunday is all about. Life always changes and we always change. But Jesus never changes. His life, death, and resurrection never change. Everything has changed and nothing has changed. It is still Jesus and Jesus is still. Jesus is still our solid ground. Jesus has called us to be His family, His church family, His faithful priests and representatives, to declare to each other and to our world through our words and actions, through how we live together as a Church family, the unchanging truth that grounds our life: Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!