Grace and peace, Harbor Friends! As we move into the summer months, and hopefully farther into the ‘Season After Pandemic’, I pray you are well — mentally, spiritually, and physically. I have found myself thinking of this hymn that we (used to) sing from time to time in my congregations: “This Is a Day of New Beginnings.” It doesn’t have a chorus, the timing or rhythms can sometimes be tricky, but it often expresses well our thoughts around transitions. Very simply, it is often nice to “start over” or get a “do-over” in life, in church life, in family, work or relationships. We like to mark a day as the first day of the rest of our lives whether we are moving, getting a new job, starting a new good habit – whatever it is, we mark the day, the moment and bravely step forward.
Here’s the first verse:
This is a day of new beginnings, time to remember and move on, time to believe what love is bringing, laying to rest the pain that’s gone.
These poetic few words speak volumes as we migrate into a new and unknown future. The past year has been so difficult we are genuinely happy to move on. And yet, we don’t really know how this will go. I invite you to note what you learned, rejoice with God for bringing you to this day, and to “believe what love (Love) is bringing.” What do you need to lay to rest the pain? Do you need to talk about it with others? Do you need to lay it at the feet of Christ?
The second verse reminds me of where I place my confidence and trust:
For by the life and death of Jesus, God’s mighty Spirit, now as then, can make for us a world of difference, as faith and hope are born again.
The next verse excites my spirit (if I were the pianist I might be tempted to modulate up here!):
Then let us, with the Spirit’s daring, step from the past and leave behind our disappointment, guilt and grieving, seeking new paths, and sure to find.
There’s a surety in these words that are hard for us to feel in our “alone-ness”; yet scripture assures us we are not alone. Our Savior is present (“I am with you always”) and leaves the presence of the Holy Spirit. I’m imagining for some of us this is a scary time. “Will we recover as persons, as congregations, as communities?” And what will life be like in our next few weeks, few months, this year?
I was reading through a little book called “Hear My Voice” by Augsburg. This is a prayer book which Disciple Bible Outreach Ministries is getting into the hands of prisoners throughout the state of NC. Rev. Mark Hicks shared this book with me yesterday. As I was reading through, I saw this quote from Desmond Tutu:
“We all experience sadness, we all come at times to despair, and we all lose hope that the suffering in our lives and in our world will ever end. I want to share with you my faith and my understanding that this suffering can be transformed and redeemed. There is not such thing as a totally hopeless case. . . . God is transforming the world now – through us- because God loves us.”
I believe these words to hold much truth and relevance for us right now. I have heard some of the most difficult stories from our pastors and lay persons over the past year, how their hope has wavered, how depressed they felt about church and about life. Money has been a sore subject. Knowing what to do and when to do it has been a constant chore. And yet. . . the tide is turning! I am beginning to hear stories of hope, of leaning into the sunlight and joy we are finding as we emerge from the cocoon of darkness we lived in for more than a year! [I’m grateful for a prayer book to go to our prisoners who have lived in great darkness and fear, surely; there is a wonderful opportunity to sponsor one of these great books for a prisoner at $10 per person. I will share how to do that with our clergy Or reach out to Mary Hartsell firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Just yesterday I was talking with a congregation member who cited the pandemic as helping the congregation he is part of. That’s right! This time away, out of the sanctuary and buildings, worshipping outside, working together as a congregation, helped them to move forward in a way they haven’t been able to in DECADES. Now, neither he nor I would wish a pandemic on anyone. Never. And yet, it was this pandemic, this fallow time if you will, that is beginning to produce and nurture new relationships, new sparks in a congregation that was marked by stalemate and inability to move forward for many, many years. I have heard other stories of seed germinating and sparks beginning to burn with hope and faith. This makes me think of a favorite scripture, 1 Thess. 5:16-18: “Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” We don’t rejoice for the pandemic, but we can always give thanks and rejoice for what God is doing in the midst of this and all times of our lives.”
The last two verses give us words for moving forward, and taking communion again and envisioning/living out the Hope:
Christ is alive and goes before us to show and share what love can do. This is a day of new beginnings, our God is making all things new.
In faith we’ll gather round the table to taste and share what love can do. This is a day of new beginnings, our God is making all things new (go up to the b flat here!)
Have great hope, my friends. We go to Annual Conference next week (virtually); I’m having a small watch party with a few colleagues. I hope you will come with joy to the Zoom and celebrate our UM connection! I’m turning the page and getting ready to take on year two in this appointment. I pray all our clergy and laity are finding a moment to reflect and move on into what God is bringing!
Finally, breathe in the possibilities of what “love can do!” Breathe out to “lay to rest” the past “disappointments and guilts.” Indeed, our God is making all things, all of us, all our churches, all our lives new!!! God loves you. I love you and I’m grateful for you.
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