Update from Bishop Matt Gunter
"We will begin a phased resumption of gathering for worship in our buildings, possibly as early as the middle of June. But that will largely be determined by the rate of infection and other public health factors. Directions for the first phase of regathering in our church buildings will be published next week. "
read his complete post here Bishop Update
Split Screen Unity
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
Let us pray: Gracious and compassionate God, we thank you for inviting all your children into your kingdom. Prepare our hearts to be about the work of being one people, the body of Christ, and ministers of his unconditional love. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Jesus said: “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
In every musical show – and in many movies – there seems to be a moment when two or more main characters, are separated, but both still on stage or screen. In a musical, they may sing a song together. In a movie, the screen is likely split between them, showing what each is doing. It’s typically not a happy moment. It often happens after a separation of some kind between the characters. It often signifies an emotional rift as well as a physical one. In these scenes, the characters are together but separate, in what John Mayer termed in his 2003 song of the same title, “Split Screen Sadness.”
2020 has given us all our very own “split screen sadness” moments — too many to count. COVID-19 has forced us all to maintain physical distance, canceling our services, keeping us apart, away from our churches and away from the Eucharist. What, then, does Jesus’ prayer for us all to be one mean here, for us, in our times? How can we “be one” when we have to settle for online services, phone calls, and Zoom meetings rather than the hugs, sacraments, and in-person love to which we are so accustomed?
The church throughout history has had its share of split screen sadness. The 1918 flu pandemic forced churches closed in many of the same ways that we have had to close in 2020. The HIV-AIDS pandemic gave people a healthy fear of disease and of one another, too, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s. Long before that, plagues would occasionally rip through the population, forcing separations and leaving sickness and death in their wake. In turbulent times, it is helpful to remember that we are not the first to walk the road before us. We are not the first church people to experience the “split screen sadness” caused by disease.
In this Gospel passage, Jesus is preparing to die. He has spent a long time talking to the disciples and attempting to prepare them, as he shared dinner with them and laid aside his robe like a servant, the night before he would lay down his life for his friends. Now, it seems, he is preparing both himself and his disciples for his death, as he prays for them.
Some of us understand what it is like to be with a person as they prepare to die. We know that truths are spoken then. We know how to say goodbye. This farewell discourse of Jesus is more relatable in its Holy Week context than it perhaps is here, in the Easter lectionary, right after the Ascension.
Perhaps one thing this pandemic has done for us is to point out that we don’t often know how to be separate but still united. Now, as we read this passage in light of the Ascension, we realize that that is exactly what Jesus is preparing them for — to remain united with him, and with each other, even when he is not physically present.
Later in this chapter of John, Jesus will say, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Crisis teaches us truths. This is true of the disciples at the time of Jesus’ death, and it is true of us here in 2020. In the Gospel of John, Jesus himself is the Word made flesh, the truth made flesh. In Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the disciples learn that the worst thing is never the last thing, but that in Christ, all things are made new. In our own time, perhaps, we are learning similar things.
When Christ ascended, the disciples looked around at each other, and the sky, such that the angels standing by asked them, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” It is okay not to know what to do next. It is okay to be still. It is okay to put one foot in front of the other and muddle through. And it is okay to be taken aback by physical separation from those we love and whose presence comforts us and lifts us up.
We are learning, or have learned, to be with one another, united in Christ, even when we are not physically present. During our time of “split screen sadness,” we have united around the Word and our mutual love for Christ and for one another. We have done nothing perfectly, but we have allowed the crisis to teach us. We have been sanctified by the truth and held together in love by Christ.
I love the lines from our second reading from 1st Peter: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” What else do we need to know? Jesus prays for our protection and unity – and we are under the mighty hand of God, because he cares for us.
Perhaps, then, this pandemic can teach us more than how to better wash our hands. Perhaps it can do more than be a moment of split screen sadness for all of us. Perhaps it can truly teach us to be one in Christ with people with whom we may never be physically present in this life. Perhaps it can serve as a reminder that regardless, we are all one in Christ, and Christ is with us, now and always. In Christ, neither death, nor life, nor pandemics, nor wars can ever separate us. Thanks be to God.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.