Just this morning, I had the pleasure of presiding over Holy Eucharist at Charter House. St. Luke’s and Calvary have been holding twice-monthly services there since time immemorial (well, at least since before I came to Rochester in 2008). This morning’s service was our first one since last spring. Just as with our first indoor services at St. Luke’s, it was a little unusual. Distancing, masks, and some pandemic restrictions were still in place. Nonetheless, we figured it out together and spend some time with God in prayer.
Heading home from the service, I reflected on how much energy it takes to make church happen against the ongoing pandemic headwind. We didn’t just taken off a Sunday or two because of a blizzard; we radically altered our pattern of worship and interaction for more than a year. And we kept altering that pattern as we went along. We spent lots of energy figuring out how to make things work when we couldn’t do anything the usual way.
We’re still doing that. Not just because of ongoing restrictions, but because we’ve been changed by what we’ve been through. The past year consumed an incredible amount of energy on so many fronts: in figuring out the right course of action, in adapting to new ways of interacting, and just in surviving amidst so much fear, isolation, and weirdness.
Genesis 32 tells the story of Jacob wrestling with God through the night. Jacob ultimately prevailed, but he came away a changed man. God had given him a new name; no longer Jacob (meaning “heel,” a reference to his being born grasping the heel of his twin, Esau), but Israel, “contends with God.” He’d also been injured in the fight. God dislocated his hip, and he left the place of their wrestling match limping. Israel named the place Penuel, meaning “facing God,” because, as he said, “I have seen God face-to-face.”
I feel some kinship with Jacob/Israel. The pandemic has injured us. Our names may not have changed, but we aren’t the same people we were sixteen months ago. Wrestling with forces beyond one’s control has a way of changing a person, inviting reflection and reevaluation.
All that’s to say, I don’t think there’s a way for us to just get back to normal. Whatever is next, wherever God calls us to go, we go as people forever changed by what we’ve been through. It’s too early to say exactly how we’ve been changed; the injury is a little too fresh.
We will, undoubtedly, find a new normal. But before we jump to it, we must take time to rest and to heal. Encountering God is too important an event to just rush past.
Yours in Christ,