I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, “Do not close your ear
to my cry for help, but give me relief!”
You came near when I called on you;
you said, “Do not fear!”
(written during the Babylonian Exile)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is hard to believe that it has been over five months since we have worshipped inside of our beloved church building. Though that is not so long in the grand scheme of things, when we do not know what the future holds, it can feel like an eternity. In a strange way, this challenging time has placed us in solidarity with people of God in ages past, who struggled to continue to live out their faith under arduous circumstances.
In 587 BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed the city of Jerusalem, along with its Temple, the center of worship for the Jewish people. This event effectively wiped out the Kingdom of Judah, and its people were cast into exile for 70 years.
In spite of the destruction of their Temple, in spite of their displacement into a new land, in spite of everything they had known being suddenly and violently taken from them, the people of Judah did not give in to despair. They reformed communities in the new land in which they found themselves. They restructured their worship so that, rather than relying on making sacrifices in the Temple, the Torah—the holy texts—became central to their religious practices. They continued to care for one another and to worship God together, albeit in a new way.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our exile will certainly be much shorter than that experienced by the people of Judah. And yet we find ourselves in a similar situation—compelled to rebuild our communities and reform our worship due to the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in. We have worked hard these past few months to navigate this new way of “being church,” of worshipping and sharing in fellowship together, while remaining physically distant. Though this transition has been painful, it has also been fruitful, as we have committed to adjust, learn new skills, and grow in perseverance, knowing that distance cannot truly separate the people of God.
To those who may still be reluctant to join in on our virtual worship, virtual coffee hours, and other gathering opportunities, I would commend to you the example of the people of Judah who, in spite of their exile, were determined to adapt and make the best of their circumstances, producing new works of scripture, literature, and even adopting the Hebrew alphabet which is still in use today. Your presence is missed. Please know that if you are experiencing difficulties with the technology, I am always available to help you navigate it.
To those of you who have been participating in our digital resources, but are struggling with the change, know that this time is temporary, and your efforts to continue to be a part of our church family are appreciated—by me personally and by others in our church who are determined to maintain our sense of community, regardless of present circumstances.
To those of you who have been enthusiastically enjoying our new way of being church, I rejoice that you have found ways for your worship life to thrive while in fellowship with others, and ask that you be willing to reach out to those who may be having difficulties with the adjustment.
Though I’m sure we all long for the time when life will become more normal, the pandemic is far from over. The CDC now projects that by September 12, we in the United States will have lost 187,000 to 205,000 people to the disease. Though the struggles we face as we adapt as a church community are significant, it is vital that we keep the safety and well-being of ourselves and our neighbors—both near and far—as the central tenant of our actions. Though I thank God that we have not lost a member of our church community to COVID, several of us (myself included) have lost loved ones. As we stare down a death toll over 60 times higher than those lost in the attacks on 9/11, a number of deaths equivalent to nearly half the population of all of Berks County, we cannot become complacent. As people of God we are compelled to worship God, love and support our neighbors and one-another, and continue in our life of faith. We cannot simply wait for this time of peril to pass. Though we are experiencing hardship, this is an opportunity—not to hit “pause” on our faith lives until everything “gets back to normal,” but to challenge ourselves to proclaim Christ in both word and deed no matter what difficulties we face.
No one is yet certain of when this pandemic will come to an end. There are several promising vaccines in Phase III trials that are expected to conclude by the end of the year. Scientists continue to develop more effective treatments for those who are infected with COVID-19. We are learning more about the disease and how it is spread (and prevented from spreading) as time goes on. The good news is that many experts are confident that the severity of this pandemic will be greatly reduced sometime in 2021 due to these advances in prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Though this time is fraught with troubles, and it can be difficult to cope in the midst of these circumstances, this too shall pass.
We are the people of God, and no distance, pain, or tribulation will ever change that. Do not fear!