I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 122:1)
Psalm 122 is one of several Psalms traditionally sung by the faithful while walking into the temple in Jerusalem. These “Songs of Ascent” serve much as the introit in our Divine Service. They set the tone for the time spent receiving the goodness of our loving Heavenly Father. They reflect our joy in sins forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
The church is opening. Our first opportunity to gather together, in small groups, with proper social distancing, is May 27. For eight weeks we have been unable to gather around Word and Sacrament to be assured of the gifts of God during these difficult times. That fast is now being broken, though we are only able to take small bites, metaphorically speaking.
We look at the stay-at-home orders and wonder about the blessings. If the virus was as virulent as originally thought, if indeed our healthcare system would be overwhelmed with the sick needing extraordinary care, then the orders accomplished their objective. They “flattened the curve,” meaning that hospitals and care givers could prepare for an onslaught of cases. Never was the idea to eliminate the disease, something that is truly impossible in short order, but to delay the number of cases.
In this the lock down is a blessing. Reality did not match the models, the surge was prevented. We are now getting back together, responsibly.
As a pastor, the orders to shut down the church were depressing. How can I truly care for the congregation entrusted to me by God? How can I comfort the sick, care for the dying, rejoice with the faithful? We missed gathering for the most important festivals of the Church Year, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. We missed Ascension. We are gathering for Pentecost — let’s try to keep it within the guidelines. We are celebrating the confirmation of our youth on Trinity Sunday in a special service limited to the immediate families. But we are gathering.
We know that there are members of the congregation who are extremely vulnerable to the virus, who are at grave risk if exposed. If you are part of that group, please continue to stay home from the gathering. However, please avail yourself of the opportunity to visit the church (or invite me to your home) to receive the Lord’s Supper.
That which we learned during these eight weeks will serve the congregation for months and years to come. We will continue with the video services for those who are not able to join us in the building. We will continue mailings with news of the church. We will continue to send weekly sermons to our shut-ins.
A number of people stepped up during the shutdown. Our Board of Elders kept close watch on the spiritual well-being of the congregation. Kathy Schwartz and Carol Benda added their talents to enhance the worship services. Sally Williams spent hours with the mailings and running the cameras. There was a large team caring for this congregation, a team which continues to serve this church.
The Psalm of David truly speaks of our joy in returning to the sanctuary to receive again the gifts of Word and Sacrament. God’s grace and mercy are sure and certain in all times. We receive the comfort of the Gospel as we go into the house of the Lord.