Bishop Neil sent all GAD clergy a letter this week. I want to share some brief portions from it with you.
Many of you are familiar with the book and movie The Perfect Storm. It told the tragic story of one fishing boat lost at sea in 1991. It encountered a storm created by three converging factors: a ridge, a cold front, and the remains of Hurricane Grace.
At the moment, it feels like we in this culture are facing a similar storm, a combination of a pandemic with a resulting recession, an upcoming election with all the political divisiveness on full display, and now the protests and related upheavals sparked by the unjust death of George Floyd. Each element is a storm in itself. The combination seems overwhelming."
The fact is, this combination of things- the perfect storm we all find ourselves in- is overwhelming. Everyone in our culture is overwhelmed right now. Emotions are running high. Conflict abounds. Pandemics continue to threaten our “normal” way of life.
After some extended reflection, I have come to the conclusion, as we are three months into this mess – and the mess seems to keep getting messier – that I am depressed. And if I were a betting man in Vegas (I’m not!), I would bet all my blue chips that I am not alone. I would wager that we all, in varying degrees, are at least a little depressed (and perhaps angry, sad, tired, disconnected and lonely, etc. . .).
Rhythm and ritual are so very important to our spiritual, mental, emotional, psychological and physical health. There is no doubt that our ordinary rhythms and rituals have had a wrench thrown into the fan! At this point, every believer, who has been taught the value of the church as a people and a place, is feeling loss, lament and sorrow for not being able to gather in a place on the Lord’s Day to receive the Gift-giver’s extraordinary gifts by means of Word and sacrament.
All of us have had the incredible privilege of being born in the USA. Consequently, we have all had it pretty good in comparison to how many in other parts of the world experience life on a daily basis (think North Korea, Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua, Cambodia, etc. . .).
We have never considered that there is a place for lament in the Christian life because, quite frankly, we, in this country, have had it so good for our entire lives we haven’t known what it is to lament. Yet, there is a place for lament in the Christian life and if ever there was a time for it, it is now.
The 1662 Book of Common Prayer provides a service of lament known as “A Commination” (literally, ‘threatening of vengeance’). Thomas Cranmer wrote this service for Ash Wednesday. It descended from the 1549 BCP’s service for the First Day of Lent. The purpose of this service is to call sinners to repentance.
Even as Christians, we sin (1 John 1:5-2:2)- and sometimes very bad (think King David and the Apostle Peter). Sin is regrettably an ongoing reality in our lives and it has real consequences- even when we are forgiven/justified and beloved of the Father. One of the purposes of Lent is to repent of our sins. We are not in the season of “Lent.” However, we are in a season of “lament.” Thus, the service of Commination seems appropriate to pray through as a form of lament. You can access the service here: A Commination.
We are not in the season of “Lent.” However, we are in a season of “lament.”
Bishop Neil also reminded the GAD clergy this week that the pandemic is not over. It is easy to forget this reality because of all the other events that have taken our attention as of late. The Bishop writes, “The pandemic is not over. Please follow your plans to deal with it in your own situation, adjusting as necessary as local governments move through the phases. You should feel free to lag behind government decisions, but please do not get ahead of them.”
The leadership of Paramount desperately wants to reopen and return to “normal.” We are working towards this goal. However, there is a pace that we must follow, as the Bishop has instructed. In the meantime, we lament.
During this quarantine, I have been introduced to and getting to know Harrison Perkins. Harrison is an assistant minister at London City Presbyterian Church in London, England. He is also a visiting lecturer in systematic theology at Edinburgh Theological Seminary, and the author of Catholicity and the Covenant of Works: James Ussher and the Reformed Tradition (forthcoming, highly recommended).
Harrison recently wrote a very good article for Modern Reformation Magazine (Michael Horton, editor) entitled, Virtual Communion? In writing about our inability to gather together to receive the ordinary means of grace, Harrison makes an important point about lament. He writes,
"[W]e should not try to normalize our present situation. The present pandemic is a really difficult time for churches. Certainly, we should be together under Word, sacrament, and prayer as the primary driver of our Christian life ordinarily. Those things are ordinary means of grace, but this is not an ordinary time. Yes, God will provide his people with necessary spiritual nourishment, but we should not try to force God’s ordinary means into God’s extraordinary providence. We need to endure through this time the best that we can in the ways that God will provide for us now. In one sense, Christians should feel as though they do not have everything that they want from church at the moment. Christians should feel a tension about this time when we cannot assemble because they should long to be together again in person to receive Word and sacrament. Rather, than feeling normal about our present circumstances by pretending that we can receive God’s ordinary means of grace over the internet, we should pray vigorously for God to end the present crisis.”
In one sense, Christians should feel as though they do not have everything that they want from church at the moment. Christians should feel a tension about this time when we cannot assemble because they should long to be together again in person to receive Word and sacrament.
During this extraordinary time, let us pray vigorously for God to end the present crisis. Until this time comes, let us learn the very hard lesson of lament. We lament because we groan, as Paul writes in Romans 8:22-23, as we taste the rotten fruit of this present, passing, evil age. However, Lord-willing, when we are able to gather back together, we will rejoice together as we once again have the gracious privilege of receiving a foretaste of the powers of the age to come through ordinary means of Word and sacrament.
"22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved. . ." Romans 8:22-24a