Maybe you expected it would come
in a wave of relief—olly, olly, oxen free--
and everything would be fine.
We’d be back in the familiar world
of hugs and handshakes and the easy
assumption of the presence of strangers.
Of course it doesn’t work that way.
Safer is not the same thing as safe.
Which turns out to have always been
more elusive than we thought.
Somehow the world opens up
slowly, in fits and starts,
and also in an incomprehensible rush.
There are more choices, and less clarity,
More possibilities, but not more wisdom.
You are not wrong to be tentative.
You are not wrong to be bold.
That’s just the way it is with grief.
That is simply the nature of spring.
By Lynn Ungar
(4-12-22; www.lynnungar.com, used with permission)
Change is rarely easy, is it? We are two years and two months from the lockdown phase of the pandemic. Life is seemingly more like the “normal” before the isolation, economic stress and fear the pandemic brought. Except for when it isn’t! We can move more freely and more often without masks. We can travel more. It is a joy to see one another. And yet, people are still dying from Covid at higher rates than from the flu. We are still waiting for a vaccine for children under 5. We are still not quite sure that another variant will raise its head and sending us back to more masking and isolation. Teachers have been working furiously this year to help children and youth catch up after two years of school on and off Zoom. Workplaces are not sure where they want workers to be – at home or in the office and they are reeling from “the Great Resignation.”
I could go on and on about what is sort of normal but not functioning as it used to function. Churches are not sure what’s up with some people coming back to in person worship, others still on live-stream, others not coming back at all. Budgets are wonky as churches try to carry on and yet people have changed their giving patterns when they were only worshiping online. Yet there is an expectation in multi-staffed churches that all the programming that used to be up and running before will magically appear.
Plymouth is no exception. We are just beginning to get our bearings and to see the scope of the work that will need to be done in rebuilding the programming for Christian formation, mission/service and fellowship that we had before March of 2020. Or create new programming more suitable for the times and future.
All this reminds me of the Israelites as they returned from Babylon with the decree of the Babylonian king, Cyrus, they began the long work of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. The story of this rebuilding is told in the book of Ezra. It was a stop and start process with squabbling and uncertainty about having the right funding and the right workers. It took much longer than they had hoped. When they got the first foundations built the people sobbed and celebrated. Those who remembered the old temple sobbed because they remembered the old. Those who didn’t remember the old temple shouted for joy. Ezra 3.13 reads, “No one could distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, because the people rejoiced very loudly. The sound was heard at a great distance.” It is good to know that the rejoicing was louder than the sobbing, yet I think it is important to recognize the painful aspect of rebuilding. Nothing was just as it was before. And that can be excruciating as well as exciting.
As the poet Lynn Ungar (a UUA minister) writes, “That’s just the way it is with grief.” Some of us will move boldly into the changes needed and some of us will move tentatively. That’s also the nature of spring which is making its presence known to us more and more each day. Plymouth is going to look different in the coming months and years with new staff and new kinds of programming. We will not be able to just go back to how things were before. God sustained the Israelites and the temple was rebuilt. God will sustain us as we rebuild. Let us encourage and comfort one another as we grieve and rejoice – simultaneously at times, as we are tentative and bold. The transforming Spirit is making all things new!
With you on the journey,
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series.