Sunday was Faith Lutheran Church’s annual meeting. We held it remotely over Zoom and I have to say kudos to all who planned and lead it! While it was certainly different than the usual in-person church service followed by a potluck meal in the fellowship hall, there was in fact, something perhaps more poignant about the role of an annual meeting. Of course we had budgets and business, but overall, it was a delightful reminder of all that God has done in the past year.
With so much turmoil and sickness, I sensed that on New Year’s Eve, the resounding sentiment was “goodbye 2020!” with a real kick out the door. I admit I am certainly looking forward to a different year from 2020, but I am not sure we should simply throw it aside and forget about it – for two reasons.
The first reason is that it has been hard to find true closure for those who died in 2020. No funeral, no memorial service, no bedside goodbyes. No chance to mourn with others and receive the loving embrace of those who mourn too. While we still hold the powerful promise that Christ has triumphed over death, we lost the ritual proclaiming this to be true – leaving no chance to reflect on this promise in community and let it sink in. Tossing 2020 away like a candy wrapper neglects the fact that many are still carrying heavy losses into 2021.
The second reason is it acts as though God disappeared from the world for all of 2020. God has been with us the whole pandemic, whether it feels like it or not. God was with us before 2020 and God will continue to abide with us into 2021 and beyond. In this time after Epiphany, we still celebrate the Christ child – Emmanuel – God literally with us. God with us in human flesh on this earth. To overlook or downplay God’s existence throughout 2020 does God and us an injustice.
It prevents us from noticing God right in front of us – in our neighbor, in our Zoom meetings, at home, and in creation. In many ways our self-isolation has allowed for an abundantly inward focus. This is only natural and is not all bad, but I pray that God will gently reopen us outward so that we may see God’s presence more clearly around us.
We may never understand why this pandemic hit and why some fell sick and others did not. We may never know all of the things that God has worked through and in which God continues to play a hand. But we can trust that God has been right there with us and that ministry has been happening. We can trust that God walks the path before us, lining the path with many opportunities for ministry.
God, thank you. Thank you for bringing us into a new year and with it new opportunities to celebrate your goodness and see you in all we do. Retrain us to notice your beauty in the small gestures as well as the grand ones. Be with those who continue to mourn and those who are ill. Comfort them with your presence and surround them and us with your love. In the name of your beloved Son, Emmanuel, Amen.