The other day I was talking to a member of our congregation at St John’s about what we might do when the restrictions ease and enable us to gather again as a Congregation for worship. ‘Oh, we’ll have a lunch all together; the 8.30am service the 10.00am and the Samoan Cluster – all together! Or, we’ll have a BBQ and everyone can bring something so that it’s no great fuss or difficulty for anyone.’ I had visions of a BBQ set outside the front of the Church with sausages sizzling as people came out from the service.

Covid-19 has been tough on everyone including church congregations. I long to come into the church and see faces of people rather than an empty church and a camera. I long to break bread together, to offer Holy Communion, to share the peace. All these things have been problematic for us as we battle against this virus, including singing. And while we know that we have needed to refrain from these activities it has nevertheless been a deep loss for us. We are physical and we are social beings. We need touch, and all our senses are engaged in worship. Our ears listen for the words of faith, and our tongues give voice to our praise and enjoy the taste of fresh bread and ‘wine’. We smell the fragrances of flowers, of freshly baked bread, of people’s perfume. We reach out our hands to welcome and embrace. Yes, we are bodily beings and when we are restricted in these things we are in some way diminished and long for the richer and fuller life we once enjoyed. As such these necessary restrictions have reminded us of how important these simple physical things are to our humanity.

The original Greek word for Church is ekklesia, which means ‘gathering’ or ‘assembly’ – and that’s just what we cannot do at the moment. Despite all this, our pastoral team has worked really hard to maintain connections, build friendships and offer support to our community, and I am very grateful to those who help week in and week out with reading, singing and prayers, and occasionally with drama and dance; grateful also for our camera crew, our editors and for our web masters who upload our weekly services, and Peter’s Pen. Bruce our Chairperson has been equally diligent in keeping us up to date with news and notices.

So I want to thank you all for your dedication and faithful service.

One of the great letters of encouragement in the New Testament is the Letter to the Hebrews. It’s probably a sermon written to a small house church living through very testing times, and I have often wondered if part of our way out of these restrictions is to gather in smaller household groups where bonds of friendship and support can be undergirded by intimate gatherings of worship in our homes. In testing times the author urges us to keep faith; not to neglect gathering for worship (even if at the moment it’s only through our computer screens), and to remember that we are surrounded by the whole host of heaven – even in our isolation– who are there to encourage and sustain us. The love of Jesus impels us toward one another in fellowship. It is in both hearing the gospel Word of hope, and being surrounded by the lived hope and faith we find in one another that we are sustained in faith. The author holds that hope before us – the promise given to us by Jesus that we will not be abandoned but rather that he will be with us even to the end of time; the promise we find in Jesus who shares our grief and loss and wants to lift us up, and walk with us through our testing times.

Listen to the words of the Psalmist who points us to God, saying, The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear. The Lord is the stronghold of my life of whom shall I be afraid?

As restrictions ease we will still need to be vigilant and careful, and respectful of one another, but hopefully see each other mask to mask, if not face to face. May God bless you.