Good morning, dear church!
Our experience is getting more and more surreal. That happens to me on some level every spring, did you know that? It’s because the season of Lent with its focus on Jesus’ suffering and dying and the heavy Holy Week texts (next week is Holy Week) more or less coincide with a time when early flowers bloom, trees sprout, sunlight becomes more abundant, lawns and grasses recover from their winter slumber, and birds start chirping in the early morning air. All that, while Jesus is heading to the cross and we as a Christian community assemble in front of a cross… It’s surreal. Are we morbid?
But of course, as a pastor, I know that in the midst of beauty and life’s many joys, there are always people (and many more people than we think!) who are suffering, often quietly, and for whom all the busy exuberance of life is but a distant chatter that only annoys them. Rarely, very rarely, it happens that we experience the surrealism of this situation, the absurdity of life and death, together. This is one of those times. The pandemic is expected to peak in our area at some point in mid-April, at least that’s what I understand at this time. It will be near its height right around Easter, as the juices of spring charge into higher gear, as we celebrate the resurrection of Christ and, indeed, life itself. Not that I complain about the wonderful changes of nature, the cycle of creation and renewal of life continuing undisturbed. It would be much harder to ride this out in the midst of winter, wouldn’t it? But it feels, well, surreal. Empty Main Street cafes in spring! Park dwellers staying apart. Restaurants closed on a warm April day. Sports stadiums dead empty. Churches on Easter – empty and quiet. It feels wrong.
Let me also tell you this: during most years I’m afraid that a good portion of our congregation never gets to connect with Lent and its reminder that life has a counterpoint called suffering. Many folks are busy with all kinds of things and are not interested in anything that feels remotely “dark.” We neglect that side of reality to our own detriment. It has led our culture to focus exclusively on growth, success, expansion, and sunny appearances to a degree that is unhealthy and unsustainable for us as human beings and for our own planet. We can only get out of this vicious cycle if we surrender and acknowledge that we are mortal and are just as much part of the eternal cycle of life and death as the next flower in our garden. Only if we truly and honestly acknowledge that we become wise. Psalm 90:12 “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Does it take a pandemic to teach us wisdom? Or will this not even be enough? I am afraid to answer that question.
Richard Rohr wrote in his meditation this morning:
“… many of us with privilege have been able to become very naïve about pain and suffering in the United States and the Western world. We simply don’t have time for it. However, by trying to handle all suffering through willpower, denial, medication, or even therapy, we have forgotten something that should be obvious: we do not handle suffering; suffering handles us— in deep and mysterious ways that become the very matrix of life and especially new life. Only suffering and certain kinds of awe lead us into genuinely new experiences. All the rest is merely the confirmation of old experience.“
I hope you don’t miss the hopeful part in his reflection. Yes, suffering and hardship are never fun. Yes, these times of quarantine, while many of us aren’t overly stressed, are very stressful for some of us. But, he says, in deep and mysterious ways the experience of suffering opens us up for new life and new experiences. That’s, in a nutshell, the message of Holy Week. Is God perhaps giving us a higher dose of Holy Week this year? Don’t forget the hopeful part!
For today, dear church, I would like to ask your prayers for all of our teachers, educators and school staff. We have quite a few in our congregation. Many of them have been busy adapting to the new situation, developing on-line courses and finding ways to teach their students. Many of the school students begin those assignments and courses today. The situation is different in different communities and school settings. Gretchen F., who is an Elementary School teacher in the Central Bucks school district told me of the pressures put on teachers to keep students learning at a high level during this time. I am sure the folks from Wissahickon and North Penn can relate. We are proud of our schools and their rankings and performances, and sometimes we go overboard. (See my general comments about growth, success, etc. above). Crystal A. is an Elementary school teacher in Philadelphia and the situation for her is starkly different. Not all of her students have even the equipment and access to technology to learn remotely. Other students in her classroom are part of a bigger family where older siblings watch younger siblings while parents work during this time. How could they get any work done? Troy B. is a principal in a Neshaminy school. He has had the “pleasure” to make lots and lots of administrative changes. They are all trying frantically to adapt to the new situation. For some subjects it’s easier than for others. Jenn G., a Middle School math teacher at North Penn says that math lends itself toward online courses. It’s pretty straightforward. With art and social studies and special education, it’s not quite that simple. So let us pray for all of our teachers, educators, administrators and school aides today. They are doing a heck of a job and we thank you all for it!
Our church council will convene this week via Zoom and I am pretty sure that the virtual church services will continue throughout the month of April, especially given the orders of the President yesterday. Our national Bishop, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton shared with us the national church response to the pandemic. I wanted to share it with you. See below.
Be blessed today, take care of your family and all those you can reach in some way during these times. Pastor Andreas Wagner