My family welcomed in 2020 in Madrid, Spain. We had traveled to Segovia, Seville, Cordoba, and finally Madrid to meet my oldest son’s future in-laws. We had an amazing time. Returning home, we had no idea what the year ahead would bring. You may recall, however, that COVID-19 was in in Spain before it got to the United States. In my wildest most gloomy nightmares, I did not see a global pandemic changing our lives forever. In January 2020, I still thought Zoom was an occasionally necessary “evil.”
The truth is that when the calendar turns to a new year, we never know what lies ahead. We make resolutions and toasts and budgets and plans. But we really never know. The wisdom of the Sinai desert and of twelve-step programs is that we get one day at a time.
So who knows what 2021 will bring? I have eagerly anticipated this day, trusting that it has to be a better year than the last one was. But who knows? I am ready for common worship again, and travel, and dining out. And hugs. And I mostly think we’ll see those things at some point in the year ahead. But none of us know for sure what new challenges and graces will come our way.
As I reflect on the year past, however, I realize that I discovered again and again in the work I am humbled to do as Bishop Fisher’s Canon to the Ordinary “across” this diocese (even when most of that work was done virtually in 2020) that God is good. All the time. I have been amazed to see the work of being the Church not stopped even when we have not been able to have in-person worship. Bishop Fisher spoke eloquently of this at his Convention Address. We all miss being together but if there is one thing we learned in 2020, it seems to me it is that the work of loving God in the neighborhood does not stop just because the building is closed.
I first encountered "The Work of Christmas," by the Rev. Howard Thurman, through a United Methodist pastor in the mid 1980s. Each year since then, I have read (and often shared with others) this inspired piece of writing. It has become quite well known through social media since then, but for those who may not yet know of it, I'll share it here once more, because I think it speaks in new ways to the work that lies ahead in 2021, regardless of what may come:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
Thurman served as the Dean of March Chapel at Boston University from 1953 - 1965. Like all who are privileged to do campus ministry, Thurman no doubt influenced many during those twelve years at BU through his preaching and teaching and pastoral presence. But perhaps most famously, it was during this time that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in the PhD program there. And so this Baptist minister born at the end of the nineteenth century had an opportunity to influence another Baptist minister who was about to change this nation in the twentieth century.
And here we are, a fifth of the way into the twenty-first century. We have known for a long time that changes were coming to the world and to our congregations, but we’ve seen the pace of change accelerate this past year. As we look ahead, I find myself wondering what lessons will take hold, even after people are vaccinated and we are able to gather again. I worry, to be honest, about the power of inertia to drag us back to “the way we were,” or in reality, to the way that we remember things were. That would be a missed opportunity, however.
Context changes. Congregations change. What remains constant is the work. What remains constant is the mission God has entrusted to us to love and serve Christ in the world. We find our purpose as followers of Jesus in sharing that work that has been given to us, from generation to generation. Healing. Feeding. Releasing. Rebuilding. Making peace. Singing new songs.
Let’s get to it!