Dear Christian friends,
As we face the prospect of an Easter weekend without gathering as church, I'm sure many of you are feeling a bit lost. This may well be the first time in your life that you haven't attended a church service for Easter. I hope and pray that you still find joy in the good news of what Jesus accomplished for us with his death and resurrection.
I write this to you on Maundy Thursday, a day which normally concludes with the most well-attended communion service of the year. The word 'Maundy' is derived from the Latin word for 'command'. The 'Maundy' in Maundy Thursday refers to the command Jesus gave to the disciples at the Last Supper, the night when he was betrayed, that they are to love and serve one another (John 13:34). Jesus had earlier in the evening displayed that loving service by washing the disciples' feet. Peter, perhaps predictably, tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet, not understanding why his Lord would do such a thing. We too, as disciples of Jesus, are called to love one another. In this time where we cannot gather on Maundy Thursday around the Lord's Table, perhaps we can focus on the new commandment that he gave. I'm sure there are a myriad of opportunities to love your neighbour given the trying circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Although many of us are gathering online for times of fellowship, there is no such thing as online Holy Communion. In this time where the church is not physically gathering, we also take pause on the corporate distribution of the Lord's Supper. While Holy Communion is a means of grace that imparts the promises of Christ in a physical tangible means, these promises do not leave us if we cannot receive communion for a time. The Lord also still comes to us through his Word, as we read it and hear it proclaimed. If you are particularly concerned about not communing during this extraordinary time, please call me.
You may have noticed that many people throughout society are struggling with the concept that we are not in control. While God has given us skilled and caring medical staff who are working tirelessly to protect their communities, ultimately, they have no real power over death. This stark reality is often hidden from us in our affluent Western society, but the truth has been revealed in recent weeks, and many people are feeling hopeless. Again, this presents us with an opportunity to love our neighbour by being prepared to give an answer for that hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).
I guarantee that people are seeing how you are responding in these days, especially those who know that you are a Christian and would normally attend church. When they see that you still live a hope-filled life even in these present circumstances, there is every possibility that they will be more open to exploring matters of faith.
I expect the current regulation closing places of worship and many other public gathering places will be in place for a number of months to come. I believe I and your congregational leaders have managed to put good structures in place to continue our ministry given the limitations we face. It has been a rather hurried effort, and without the benefit of advanced planning we have probably missed a few things. Please make me or your congregational leaders aware of anything that isn't quite right. When Parish Council met on Monday night, we began discussions regarding finances and how we will sustain our budgets in the months to come. If you haven't already contacted your congregation's treasurer to discuss your options for continued giving to the work of the church, please do so.
There have been many conversations throughout the LCA in recent weeks about the potential for lasting changes as a result of this pandemic and our society's response to it. On the one hand, we are overjoyed at the incredible opportunities before us to proclaim the Gospel to a world that desperately needs it. On the other hand, there is a very real risk that people get used to not coming to church and stop receiving God's grace in Word and Sacrament altogether. In our parish, we are being much more deliberate about pastoral care arrangements and attempting to ensure that no one is overlooked. This is the sort of thing that we probably should have been doing already, and I hope we can sustain it when things return to some sense of normality. In your own homes, you may have reinvigorated your devotional life and are making use of the vast array of resources that are available to you. Again, I hope this can continue even when Sunday mornings revert to be the time when we gather as church. There will still be six other days in the week where you can practice what you've established in this unusual period.
In many ways, we are experiencing our own version of Easter Saturday. What we thought we knew has been taken away from us. We live in dark and seemingly hopeless times. Yet our Lord Jesus has promised never to leave nor forsake us, and so we must live in hope. We don't know what things will look like when the darkness is gone, but there is every chance they will not be exactly how they were before. When the disciples encountered the empty tomb and the risen Lord Jesus on that first Easter Sunday, it wasn't just a return to the fellowship they shared with him on Maundy Thursday. Something had fundamentally changed in their relationship, not least because Jesus had died, and was buried, and now lived again. For us, at some point, we will come out the other side of this pandemic and I pray that when we do, we will experience life as a church in a deeper more joyous way because of what we've been through. May God bless us and strengthen us in faith toward him and love toward one another throughout these testing times.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Joshua Muller
Eudunda Robertstown Lutheran Parish