Easter 5 / Year B.
My Praise is of God in the great assembly; I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him. (Psalm 22:24)
What a wonderful verse from the Psalter for us to read on this morning when the doors of St. Paul’s finally are open for public worship. Once again we can to praise God in the presence of those who worship God in this space we love! Hallelujah!
This morning we hear Jesus say, “I am the vine and my Father is the vinegrower... Every branch that bears fruit is pruned so that it can bear more fruit.” The last fourteen months have been a period of pruning, haven’t they. Much of what we think of as fruitfulness has been cut off… in our lives, in our community, in our occupations, and here in our church – the worship services, the Christian formation activities, the opportunities for fellowship, the ministries we offer to the community. We have been pruned indeed. And yet, as Jesus says, we have figured out how to abide in him and remain connected to one another. Although physically separated, God has granted us a spiritual path to maintain our sense of community. Challenged? Yes. Blessed? Beyond measure!
And now the doors are open. I like to say “the doors are open” because it sums up what is different today from last Sunday. We made an intentional decision not to make too many changes prior to reopening. Some churches are forming committees to plan their ‘reopening.’ These groups meet over and over and over again trying to nail down every detail and iron out every wrinkle before regathering. There is a reason why Moses didn’t form an Exodus Committee to figure out all the things that needed to happen prior to leaving Egypt. His lean instructions were these: “Grab what you can and let’s go. The rest we will figured out on the way.” And we will too.
As I reflect on the last fourteen months, I realize we at St. Paul’s have established a pretty good track record of rising to challenges and seizing opportunities and I fully expect this to continue as we move forward. We will figure it out as we go, facing every problem not as a reason to assign blame, but as an opportunity for innovating. Like the pruned vine we now are, we will grow in the new and unexpected ways. We will be fruitful once again, but perhaps not in some of the ways as before.
In my sermon on Easter Sunday I mused on the difference between resuscitation and resurrection. Resuscitation occurs when one person literally takes the life in him or her and forces it into another who is lifeless. Resurrection is entirely God’s doing and we are the beneficiaries. I am mindful of this distinction as we open the doors to St. Paul’s. Regathering Committees, what with all their planning, are working at resuscitation, and many are finding it is a lot of work indeed. My thinking is let’s just open the doors and see what happens! Let’s see what God is going to do and then we’ll respond to it. This, I hope, is a resurrection mindset.
So, one phrase I am using is “The Doors are Open.” Here is another: “God is leading us into our future.” It reminds me who is in charge – God. It reminds me of what God is doing – leading us. And it reminds me where we are going – into our future. Because God is leading us, we do not initiate activity, but rather respond to opportunity. And because God is leading us into our future, our focus is on what will be, not what once was. Much of what we did before we will do again, but not everything. And some of what we did before will happen in a new and different way. And… things we never dreamed of before all the pruning we have been through will suddenly become a part of who we are. Standing here before you this morning, I can’t tell you specifically what this will look like, only that we have established a pretty good track record of meeting challenges and seizing opportunities.
The first step in all of this is opening the doors and inviting you in. Let’s enjoy this moment, shall we. Let’s get acclimated to being back together. Let’s remember what it is like to stand and to kneel and to say out loud, “And also with you.”
Somewhere in our future there will be singing. Somewhere in our future there will be the Passing of the Peace. Somewhere in our future there will be a pile of children pulling on the bell rope at the end of the service. Somewhere in our future there will be coffee and cookies after church.
But for now, isn’t it wonderful just to be back in our beautiful worship space, to hear the organ, to be bathed in the light of our stained glass windows, to receive communion in both kinds (albeit in a new way) and to see one another. Isn’t it wonderful to have the doors open once again and to praise God in the midst of the great assembly!