We made it to the end of the year. Well at least the end of the liturgical year. Next Sunday we start all over again with the season of Advent. A time of waiting. Of longing. Of hoping. Isn’t that what we’ve been doing for the last nine months?
Where has the time gone? It’s been agonizingly slow and strangely fast. We’ve missed spring, summer, and most of fall and wonder where it went. And almost every week one of us says to the other, “it’s Thursday again.”
It’s been like nothing any of us ever expected or imagined. We’re all anxious and stressed. We all worry for those who are ill and grieve the horrific loss of life that just keeps increasing minute by minute.
But this waiting of Advent is not about wanting things to be over. It is about longing for what is to come. And yet, as I reflect on the horribleness of this year I find so many things to be grateful for, to reflect on, and to be hopeful about.
Yesterday, Dakota Beeler was confirmed at St. Mark’s Cathedral. I think by mistake I sent out a picture of her and Debbie and Bishop Greg last night to a bunch of you. I meant to send it only to Loren to have him post it on the screen today.
It was a very different kind of celebration. But it was a beautiful morning, a beautiful setting under a tent on the labyrinth, and the Holy Spirit blessed everyone who was there. Bishop Greg presided, Gen was the deacon and read the Gospel. The livestream was really glitchy, but a few of us were able to watch.
We are all still here and we are gathering each week to give thanks to God for all we have. Perhaps we know more clearly what we have to be grateful for. I know that we are all hopeful this next year will bring us back together again.
We have realized that community is important, not just us as the people of St. Clare’s, but locally as we support our businesses and restaurants.
These things are all good, but this time has also allowed us to see some challenges that we would rather not look at.
We have found ourselves more aware of racial injustice and how insidious it is in each of us. Perhaps we can now listen better to stories that need to be told so that a Spirit of Reconciliation can free us from the sin of privilege and bias.
We have lived through a tumultuous campaign and election – and one that seemingly won’t end without more turmoil. It has brought out how divided we are as a nation.
And we are also being made more aware of things like hunger, poverty, homelessness, mental illness. This time is bringing up the anguish of so many who live among us and we would rather ignore.
All of it is reason to pause. It should bring us to our knees. But as long as any of these things remain unconscious or unaddressed, they can never be dealt with or healed.
These things give me pause. But they also give me hope.
Like almost all clergy who cherish celebrating the Eucharist and performing baptisms, and other sacramental rites, these last nine months have been difficult. It’s been hard to not consecrate bread and wine and share it with you each week. These sacraments have been severely limited this year to protect all of us from harm. In the beginning this caused me a lot of grief. As time has gone on, a shift has taken place in me.
When we fast from things that are so important, it forces us to re-examine their place in our lives – whether we are the providers or the receivers of such gifts.
This time has allowed other things to surface as important and meaningful. They don’t replace those original things, but as they are set aside, the Spirit can move among us with new life, new challenges, and new possibilities.
In Matthew’s gospel this morning, Jesus tells us how to see him and know him. The Church has said for centuries that it is in the bread and the wine. “Be known to us Lord Jesus, in the breaking of the bread.”
That’s true, and it will always be so, but when we can’t break that bread together, where do we look to find Jesus?
This fasting has opened our eyes, my eyes. It has made me hunger for what the bread and the wine are meant to do. It has made me ache for those who do not have enough bread, enough freedom, enough shelter, enough clothes, enough respect and dignity.
It has made me see Jesus in the people he sought out and healed, helped, blessed, and loved.
To see Jesus as Jesus probably wanted us to see him, we don’t need to look any further than our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable ones.
If a sacrament is and outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, then perhaps it is through new eyes that we might see what other sacraments there are to be nurtured and nourished in us.
Then boxes of food to any and all who are hungry without question – except perhaps, “do you want more?” becomes a sacrament. Then socks and toothbrushes to someone who is unhoused becomes a sacrament. Then soup for the sick, a phone call to the lonely, a card to a shut-in becomes a sacrament.
It is important to remind ourselves that in this time of isolation and division and unrest and wondering how we’re going to get by, that we might see that Jesus is really here with us in the needs of those around us. It is also important to know that Jesus lives and acts through each one of us. God takes all of this and blesses, breaks, and shares it to become a sacrament for the world.
As we do these things we know Jesus more fully. We can catch glimpses of the way he hoped we would see and care for the world God made. We would live into the sacrament that says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
May it be so, and may we all end well a year we would rather forget, and welcome a new one with new brothers & sisters we never knew were part of our family. A hope that springs eternal within us who have faith. A hope that looks out for Jesus in the stranger and the non-stranger – a friend. But in the end, the stranger will become a friend; the stranger will become family and we all will receive something glorious in that heavenly banquet where we put our hope and dreams.
May it be so as we end this year and with longing and hoping may we await the new year that comes to us.
The Reverend Patty Baker, Vicar
St. Clare Episcopal Church