If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!2 Corinthians 5:17
I was so grateful this past month to have a chance to get away for a little bit for some continuing education and time with dear friends and colleagues. We all attended the Festival of Homiletics – an annual week-long preaching conference – together; and since we are all fully vaccinated and the festival was online only this year, we decided to rent an AirBnB and create our own little conference around the festival.
We took turns planning and leading morning and evening prayer services; we created intentional times and spaces for processing and making meaning of the events of the last year; we cooked for each other and gave hugs, and we planned “cohort enrichment” events that varied from an evening of the great Lutheran pastime of beer and hymns, to a very nerdy birthday party for yours truly, to an emotional service of grief for a dear friend who was marking the second anniversary of her mother’s death.
It had been over a year since I’d gotten to see any of my friends – some I hadn’t seen since we graduated from seminary! – yet in many ways it was like no time had passed; being with my friends was the same as it was before.
But in many ways, it was also very different. After fourteen months of isolation and struggle and anxiety and uncertainty, we didn’t want to take a single moment together for granted. We were intentional about how we used our time – making sure there was time to learn together, to play together, to sing and pray and study and relax, to cry and eat and laugh and worship together, to watch and wait and listen for the Spirit stirring among us.
The fact that the Festival of Homiletics was still online actually freed us up to be creative and to structure our time to focus on what we most wanted and needed, and to be present with each other in ways we probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. And being able to voice our grief together brought us closer than ever. I felt especially connected to my friend grieving the loss of her mother, since I also lost my own mother at a young age.
It was all a powerful reminder of what Paul writes about here in this verse from 2 Corinthians: that God is continually at work bringing transformation and new life. God delights in bringing us to life in ways we don’t expect, and often when we least expect it.
This week was also a good reminder that – as we here begin to gather in person again and our life together starts to look a little more like it did before – in many ways, it will be the same, just like the good ol’ days; and in many ways it will be different. Time and trauma and technology have changed the way that we think about what church is and about how we relate to one another and to our neighbors. In many ways, we have been freed to be creative and to live out God’s call in ways that make sense for our time and place. And I’m hopeful that our re-gathering will be time to remember that we don’t just “do” church or “have” church or “go to” church – we ARE church, whatever form that takes.
And as we start easing into post-pandemic life, there are three things that are often on my mind: one thing I hope, one thing I wonder, and one thing I know.
I hope that, like my seminary cohort, having experienced the grief and trauma of this year together will bring us closer together than ever, that we will use these shared experiences to strengthen our relationships with each other.
I wonder how, likewise, we can be intentional about praying and listening for God’s wisdom as we discern the path forward from here, so that we may step boldly into God’s future together.
And I know that God is eternally faithful. I know that God is continually creating and recreating – and that even as the old things are passing away, God is already joyfully at work making all things new.
First published in St. John’s June 2021 newsletter.