March 25, 2020
The Annunciation of the Lord
Dear East Tennessee Friends,
I am writing to you on a most holy day, the Annunciation of the Lord. This is the day in the Church calendar when we celebrate the announcing angel declaring to Mary that she is most favored by God and will conceive and bear a son, who will be named Jesus.
In the Middle Ages, this story from St. Luke’s Gospel was depicted in sacred art with images of Mary, in her home, with a prayer book in her lap, as the Angel Gabriel enters her home with surprising, world-changing news. The Holy has entered her home. In the daily and the mundane, the most sacred and Divine has come to find a resting place. The first declaration of the Good News is at home.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has upended our world. Our daily and weekly rhythms have been scrambled. For those who have not lost jobs, most work is happening at home. Children are learning from home and many parents are taking on new roles as instructors. Our health care workers and our public health officials are facing unprecedented challenges. Volunteers and local non-profit staff are continuing to care for the elderly, the vulnerable, and the least of these. In support of requests from public health officials and medical experts combating COVID-19, Episcopal parish churches in the Diocese of East Tennessee are learning new ways to worship and share in ministry together while we are dispersed, not gathering in any traditional corporate ways that we have known.
At this time, the facts on the ground regarding COVID-19 still necessitate our need to do all we can to combat community spread. I would ask that you continue to engage in worship, pastoral care, and Christian formation as a dispersed body, still refraining from gathering in person.
Over the last few days, I have had five opportunities to join in zoom conference calls with the clergy of the Diocese of East Tennessee. These calls have been opportunities for prayer, to hear from each other, and to learn from each other how worship and pastoral care and ministry continues in a season of pandemic. Your clergy and lay leaders are creative, imaginative, and faithful people. I am thankful for their presence and their leadership in this moment.
This COVID-19 season is pushing all of us out of our comfort zones. However, like the announcing angel who enters Mary’s home, I do believe the Holy and the Divine are showing up and revealing to us again and again that God is present with us wherever we are. The home I share with Susan has become a little monastery.
I invite you to go to the Diocesan website, dioet.org, for additional updates and resources. The Diocesan website includes resources for worship from home which can be found by clicking through the link on COVID-19 updates and scrolling to the bottom of that page.
Along with occasional video meditations and messages which I will keep sharing with you, I plan to write you again on Wednesday, April 8th and will continue to write you every other Wednesday until the COVID-19 pandemic season concludes. I do not know when the COVID-19 pandemic season will conclude. I do know that during this season we need to continue to function as a community, although a dispersed one, finding new ways of being “with” one another without gathering in person.
“Practice resurrection.” That is how one of Wendell Berry’s most famous poem concludes. These two words capture the kind of Easter season that you and I are about to enter together. The Resurrection is the event upon which we place our faith in Christ Jesus. That event is certain.
What is now asked of us is to practice living out the Resurrection in a new time. Together, we will inhabit and embody our faith, in our hearts and in our homes.
Together, we will discover how in this time of isolation and fear, we may be renewed as persons beloved of God.
Together, among the swift and varied changes of this world, we will find new ways to fix hearts where true joys are to be found.
Together, we will lay down our individual anxieties and fears and renew our acquaintance with God’s love and how we reveal it.
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.