It’s the morning of Holy Thursday and it doesn’t feel like it. This year the rhythm of my Holy Week observance is disrupted. There will be no combined worship service tonight with our sister congregation, commemorating the last supper of Jesus with his disciples. There will be no Tenebrae service tomorrow evening with those same folks. No gathered remembrance of the passion story read by multiple liturgists in the deepening darkness of the sanctuary, punctuated by candles being snuffed out as the disciples betrayed, abandoned and denied even knowing Jesus. There will be no ending of that service, an experience of darkness and silence, which is both unsettling and formative. Today I realize how much these collective experiences of worship allow me to grieve and lament and stand in awe before God. They allow me once again to enter into the reality of Jesus’ last days, again made aware of my part in the reality of human sin and fragility. They help me to realize both my vulnerability and my awe in receiving the gift of divine love. So this year, this morning – I picture myself at that table with Jesus. I bring my mosaic of limitations and failings to join with the others there: my fears, my desire to control and to fix, my periods of despairing, my times of denying my shortcomings and the times of being overwhelmed by them, my anger over inequities and my knowledge that many people suffer in ways that I will not experience and that I can do little to change, my complacency with the things that I could do more to change. Around this table, Jesus invites all. All of us who gather together at his table mirror the needs and failings of the original twelve. Their failings were heightened by the rising tension of that week in Jerusalem; ours are made starkly visible by this costly viral pandemic and the breadth of its consequences. Again Jesus offers us bread, the sustenance of abundant life, the symbol of his dreadful, loving sacrifice – and the cup of tears and suffering, joy and life. Again Jesus offers us these gifts and hosts the meal, knowing our actions and our motivations toward God and others: those of compassion and well-meaning; those of harm, arrogance, complacency and self-absorption. And still, Jesus continues to love all of us. This love undergirds us and at the same time exposes us for who and what we are. That divine love and its offer of forgiveness offends us, as we look around the table, and brings us to our senses. Out of that experience of love arises our hope for a future that is different, because we are being changed. This morning the Holy Spirit asked me, in the words of John Wesley, “How is it with your soul?” So I ask you to join me tonight — wherever you are – at the table of our Lord. In his presence, listen to him speaking to your soul and I will listen also.
March 22, 2020
We All Need You! Ephesians 3:20
There have been times in the last two weeks when I have felt unsettled and a bit overwhelmed. You could say that our church sign looks like I felt – weather-beaten and in need of repair. Gladly the repairs are coming soon, but I could no longer keep the words on that sign that displayed our Sunday worship time. They are cancelled for now. And the only message that seemed appropriate was this: Please take care of yourself – for somebody needs you!And I will add — We all need you!The public health authorities instruct us to stay in, to stay away from others, and it feels like nothing I have ever experienced in my life. Like you, I just want to go out and do something to help in an emergency or crisis situation.This time, what is needed is physical distance from each other. This very contagious viral illness is spread in the most ordinary ways, aerosol droplets from infected people landing on surfaces that we all touch. And we know that people who do not yet show signs of illness can be infected and unknowingly spread the virus.The simple fact is that the less people that become infected, the less people there will be who come down with a very severe illness. As the numbers of severely ill people are rapidly growing, the country’s hospital system and ranks of health care workers are facing overwhelming demands. The very folks we depend on to care for us are being placed in extremely risky circumstances. Let us not forget the many other categories of workers whose jobs also require physical proximity to others and do so for the benefit of us all.I would say that for now — staying in, staying away — is a profound act of loving God, loving self and loving neighbor; an act of loving sacrifice.What we need is physical distance, not social isolation. We need to care for our own safety, to figure out how to stay connected with those we who bring meaning to our lives, and to find creative and effective ways to respond to the needs around us. We are in this together, and we are just beginning to understand that what we are facing will likely get worse before it gets better.So try to establish new daily routines as we all need that grounding. Seek out the wisdom and care of others you trust. Listen to those in the scientific community who have previously led us through epidemics. Ask questions of claims and ideas that don’t sound right, or sound too good to be true. Be open to doing things in new ways and learning new skills. Use your God given creativity and the resources we already have in our midst. Seek ways to help that do not add to the risks that must be taken by others.Stand firm in your faith that God is always in the midst of our lives and of human history – empowering us “to do far more than we could ask for or even imagine”. (from Ephesians 3:20). So …Take care. Somebody needs you! We all need you! Yours in Christ, Ann Cover
March 18, 2020
Hello South End UMC Family!
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea. Be still and know that I am God! (Isaiah 46: 1-2, 10; New Revised Standard Version)
We will not be having worship at our church again this Sunday, March 22nd. This is in keeping with the important need to take care of ourselves and others in this time of viral pandemic.
A Word of Thanks!
I wish to thank all of you and everyone else who are staying in as much as possible;All the adults who are working from home and in addition are taking care of children and grandchildren, attending to their emotional and educational needs. Those who are running necessary errands for others and sharing food and supplies; Those who must work (clerks, managers and those who stock shelves) so that there is food and supplies on grocery and pharmacy to be purchased; Farmers and truckers and those in the supply chains – producing and delivering all the goods we need. Police and first responders of all kinds; Utility workers who are using this time to work on public projects while there are minimal traffic levels; Those who take care of us all in need at hospitals and nursing facilities, clinics and testing centers and among others are at high risk for contracting this virus; Those who are working on the front line of virus research and as public health officials and government officials who are attempting to organize and coordinate and legislate for the safety and financial needs of our entire population.
March 15, 2020
The gift of oneself: It’s not a small thing! Based on Luke 21: 1-4
This has been quite a week! Our city and its people are still reeling from the direct damage from the tornado of March 2nd and all of the secondary costs to homes and businesses and time lost at work and school. Now in addition, we have the specter of this viral illness that has brought us all to a standstill. The present is confusing and we have insufficient data to fully understand what lies ahead – for our own lives and for everyone else.This past Wednesday just before the fellowship meal, I was outside with the children who were playing jump rope in front of the sanctuary building. One of the little girls noticed the new blossoms on the tree, and I had to look a second time, because there were just a very few on the whole tree! You could say that this tree has been through too much already this season: early warm temperatures, followed by a hard freeze and then strong winds and thunderstorms. Most of the blossoms were damaged and fell off the tree weeks ago. For me, the rarity of these blossoms made their beauty all the more striking.Which brings me to the scripture passage that I was preparing to preach from on Sunday — Luke 21: 1-4. In these few verses, we see Jesus asking his disciples (and we the readers) to notice the procession of people who are offering financial gifts to God, at the Jerusalem Temple, during the Passover Feast. It is the last week of his life on earth and Jesus points to the woman who gives two small coins, whose financial worth is very little. Jesus asks us to notice her gifts. She gives both coins. She could have given just one, saving the other for herself. Jesus compares her small gifts to the significantly larger ones offered by others. He says while many gave out of their abundance, “she out of poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:4, New Revised Standard Version). Amy-Jill Levine in her study, Entering the Passion of Jesus, suggests an alternative translation of the Greek for that phrase. She suggests that the woman gave “her whole life” rather than “all she had to live on”.Both translations still prompt me to ask why she gave in such a manner. Where would her next meal come from? Was this a wise thing to do? Jesus lets us wrestle with our questions. Jesus does not hold up this widowed woman to us as a victim, nor as someone who was asking to be noticed. Jesus lifts her up as an example of one who chose to give all that she is and all that she has to God, through the Temple which she viewed as a symbol of God’s goodness and care. Jesus too would soon empty himself, giving his very life for the salvation of the world.So I circle back to our current situation. Right now we are faced with a vague and confusing picture of the present and many unknowns as we face even the immediate future.Yet two small things have become crucially important to all of us: the availability of soap and clean water and hand sanitizer! Not everyone has them.Jesus asks us—How and why do we give? Does it ever feel as though our gifts are insignificant, or misplaced, or maybe even given for the wrong reason? To make it through this time, we all need to have some “big things” in place, like competent systems such as clear and accurate channels of communication, the health care system for testing and treatment, various forms of short term financial assistance for families/communities and plans for long term recovery. And we will all need the gifts that we choose to give each other — the gifts of ourselves. The impact of our giving may feel like a small thing, but it will prove to be as important and as beautiful as the rare blossoms on our church tree! Listen – really listen as you make phone calls to check in on friends and relatives and neighbors. Step back and seek patience through prayer. Be willing to learn and be ready to adapt to new ways of doing things. Share wisdom from other times when you lived through major transitions.Consider helping others directly as you are able, for many folks will be struggling to pay their necessary bills come April 1st. Communicate discovered needs to the church, especially if you cannot help yourself. Share some hand sanitizer – someone else may have found only empty shelves!Share on line – poems for the day, words to music/hymns that inspire you, prayers that you write, and the situations where you see God’s goodness being lived out around you. We all will need these reminders of the power of divine love.All the ways of giving that you discover.Every single gift is important; every single gift helps someone. I believe that God knows the heart of the giver and multiplies the impact of the gift.Just as even the rare number of blossoms on the tree in front of the church remind us of renewed life and the promise of spring, so does our giving make it possible for others to realize that divine love is the foundation of hope, and that none of us, in that love, are ever alone. Yours in Christ, Ann Cover