Beloved People of God, As we’re all trying our best to cope and overcome the Covid-19 virus, movies seem to be a staple of the “stay-at-home.” One of our family’s favorites is the Disney classic, “Aladdin.” (The one with Robin Williams.) There is a scene, which I can’t help but think describes our situation quite well. It’s the scene with Princess Jasmine and Prince Ali flying round the world on their magic carpet ride, singing the song, “A Whole New World.” It is a whole new world right now as we all try to adapt to this pandemic.
New information comes every day, seemingly every minute of every day. As one friend shared, “It’s been quite a year this past week!” We are all trying to flatten the curve of the outbreak and practice physical distancing while trying to find ways to connect with one another. For me, the learning curve sometimes seems like the newest roller coaster at Cedar Point. (I’m not a fan of roller coasters!) Sometimes, it feels a little overwhelming.
I am reminded of the words of Psalm 46. This Psalm is utilized as the basis of Luther’s wonderful Reformation hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” The Psalmist proclaims:
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. 6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Notice the psalmist shares the reality that creation itself is broken and in rebellion against the Creator. Earthquakes and tsunamis cause destruction. Disease and disability strike. Yet, the psalm also names the one trustworthy source of security that can be relied upon in the midst of this roaring rebellion: God is our refuge, "therefore we will not fear." The refrain of the Psalm is verse 7: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” It is my hope and prayer that in the midst of these trying times that you experience God as your refuge, and we, as a church and your pastors, are committed to help provide that care and comfort.
Our tag line is St. Stephen is a church where love lives! But, like ancient Israel shifting to synagogues when the Temple was destroyed, our worship of God is not limited to a building or space. Like the first disciples of Christ shifting their gatherings to secret places, the people of God continue to worship in Spirit though the venue may change. This time of physical distancing is an act of loving our neighbor as we continue to acknowledge our dependence on the Creator of the Universe. As the body of Christ, we are where love lives. We are the church! Perhaps that is one of the good things that may come from all of this, that we are made more aware that the church is not a building, but the people so deeply loved by God who, with Christ in their heart, act as little Christ’s for one another. This passion and action must not be lost when this virus is defeated!
I have had several questions regarding worship for Palm Sunday and Holy Week. As I write, the physical distancing guidelines are being stretched nationally until April 30. We will prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. It is likely that we will not be able to be physically together. As heartbroken as that makes me, we will try our best to find creative ways to provide meaningful worship and foster real relationships in a very difficult time. I want to lift up Rachel and Dan Hall, Lydia Brooks, Jimmy Oakley, Cliff Varian and Thom Snow, who have blessed us with their talent and gifts throughout this time. I promise you; we will help you worship our Lord, who is our refuge and strength, and I pray you will worship with us in a new way. Please review the following:
Palm Sunday, April 5:
We invite you to pick up a palm at St. Stephen on Wednesday, 4/1 and Thursday. 4/2 from 9 a.m. – noon. (If you’re dropping off food you may pick up your palm at that time.)
Maundy Thursday, April 9, 7 p.m.:
During the Maundy Thursday Service we are going to offer a service of healing. We invite you to have a small bowl of anointing oil, which can be olive oil or another favorite scented oil prepared for the service. We will invite you, during the order of healing, to mark the cross of Christ on your and/or your family members’ foreheads. We are still in conversation about whether communion may be shared at our home tables (altars). Please stay tuned for further information.
Good Friday Tenebrae, 4/10, 7 p.m.:
This is always a powerful service as we move from light to darkness. We are working on a way that the Voices in Praise may present, at least, portions of their special Tenebrae Cantata on-line. We will offer the Tenebrae, one way or another.
An on-line experience of The Stations of the Cross TBA
Easter, 4/11, 9:15 and 10:30 a.m.:
Again, we are working out whether communion can be shared in a new way. We will offer a special blessing for all the flowers and deliver them the week following the celebration of the resurrection.
“7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
May you continue to experience God’s presence and take comfort that God is indeed our refuge.
I hope to see you soon on Sunday,