God who speaks from out of the whirlwind, and hears sighs too deep for words: as we come to terms with what we do not know – a timeline for return, a safe social distance – as we struggle to make sense of the world around us and imagine what life will be like, ground us in our kindness. May a gracious word begin our next encounter, a patient thought accompany our coming breath, so that with little left in our control, we may control ourselves with grace and faith and compassion Amen.
Try writing a pandemic haiku, a poem or prayer with 17 syllables –5 in the first line, 7 in the second line, and 5 in the last line. They do not have to be serious! If you would like to share any you have written, send them to Katherine for inclusion in our next mailing.
A friend of mine recently told me a story about a woman in his church, who has started – just a few times a week – to click onto a photo of the inside of their church building. There’s no one there, in the photo, but she can see, she said, the red carpet, and the organ pipes. And it gives her great reassurance that the day will come when she and all the others in the congregation will be back inside.
We might smile at that, but we can probably sympathise a bit, too. When you lose your place of worship, even temporarily, you don’t just lose the surroundings. You lose the pattern, the liturgy, as well. The how of worship is knocked out of kilter, how we do it, and how we do it together.
But it’s not just the ritual of communal worship that we’ve lost in these days. We’ve also lost the ritual of our days, the patterns by which we learn to give worship to God by our way of being in the world. Those patterns have all changed too. And we are further disorientated by the growing understanding that, strictly speaking, we will never be able to go back to life as it once was, not exactly. Yet we as people of faith should not be unduly surprised by this turn of events, for the experience of losing your place and pattern of worship is a familiar one in the Bible.
The experience of losing your familiar place and patterns often leads to lively new forms and patterns of worship, of course. However, this can take time, and in the meantime, we tend to see much more loss than hope. The life of faith is so often a life of dislocation, in which it is not always easy to take our bearings.
That is perhaps why Jesus, on the eve of his death – which will be highly traumatic to his followers but will lead, among other things, to the writing of the New Testament – speaks to his disciples at such length. And why he reminds them that in God’s house there is plenty of room. For the house of God, as it turns out, is not really a place at all. It is Jesus himself.
Trust me, Jesus says. Trust God, and trust me. You will be where I am. And I am in God, and God is in me. The dwelling place we are promised is a relationship, a life woven inextricably into the life of God in Christ. And in this dwelling place, we who are in Christ are not only made alive today, but are the place of God’s working, in surprising and powerful ways.
And so for all the sadness of Jesus’ farewell to his disciples in John’s gospel, Jesus is not encouraging us to click onto the photo of the red carpet and the organ pipes when he is gone. If anything, Jesus is counter-nostalgic. Of course, his own leave-taking will be traumatic for those he loves, and for a time they will lose their bearings and fail to grasp even what he has asked them to remember.
But his departure will not be the unmitigated disaster it might at first appear to be. It will be a blessed dislocation, an opening. It will be a time of conversion, which is perhaps the most reliable mark of the Christian life: a disarming willingness to be ourselves dislocated and turned around into new patterns of faithfulness, that the work of God in Christ might be done in us, whether or not anyone notices.
For our dwelling place, then and now, before and after, is in the life of God. And however much we love the organ and its pipes, and long for the day when we will hear it again, we have no need to click onto the past, such are the greater works than these in which our lives are already implicated. A door is opening, even when the church doors are still closed. And to God alone be the glory.