Pentecost: Sermon for the First In-Person Sunday Morning Eucharist Since Onset of Pandemic – May 23, 2021

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. How good it feels to have our first Holy Eucharist in-person after so long! Look around! We are still here! Having survived what we have suffered, we gather today boasting with St. Paul, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4: 8-10). It feels good.

I’ve heard what you are asking. You want to know what is next. It is question I have not been able to answer for more than a year. You are eager to move forward and discover what new thing the Holy Spirit has for us as the Spirit does its ongoing work of leading us into all truth. I am happy to announce that this Feast of Pentecost is a turning point in our common life. Today is the official start of our physical regathering in-person in our beautiful stone church building.

This is only possible because you have been doing so well getting vaccinated. Without the vaccinations, we would still be isolating in our individual homes. The vaccinations are still happening, some of you still need second doses, our 12-17 year olds have only recently become eligible, and we can’t forget that our many precious members under twelve years old are not vaccinated. Getting everyone vaccinated is still the main task right now. If you have not been vaccinated, please join the rest of us who have been so that you can join us safely in the near future when we will have church events that will be entirely safe for the vaccinated, but may not be safe for the unvaccinated. It will break our hearts if we lose any one of you because you chose to not be vaccinated. We have had enough heartbreak already.

Vaccinations are happening at such a high rate in our congregation that we, today, are setting in motion plans to resume gathering regularly again. You have waited long for me to say that.

What to look for next is a live in-person worship service in our church that is also simultaneously the broadcast service Chelmsford Telemedia and available all week on our website and YouTube. This will enable everyone to attend in-person, but if you are in the hospital or simply unable to come, you can still have your worship service, and, if the service is a pastoral service such as a wedding or a funeral, your long distance relatives will be able to view it in real time wherever they may be on planet earth. How great, right!

We’ve never had any broadcast capacity in the church. Since the onset of the pandemic, everything we’ve done this last 14 months electronically has been entirely accomplished on the personal equipment of staff and parishioners. It is surprising how well we’ve done with no professional equipment. It will be very big job this summer this wire and equip the church with multiple cameras, microphones, and computers. It’s never been in our budget. Some of you have already generously stepped forward to contribute financially to make this happen without us even asking. Thank you. If you would like to contribute to make sure that gets done, please contact the church office and we’ll get you that information.

While we are installing that and learning how to operate it, there will be several in-person very simple Eucharists in the church starting in mid-June. Those of you who are eager to reenter the building for prayer and worship, that will be here soon. We are working on it right now to make it happen.

The goal here is to be maximally normal and fully ready as the September program year kicks off. There are already weddings, memorial services, and other activities, scheduled this fall that had been postponed far too long during the pandemic. Those of you looking for the return of your old 8am Sunday morning Eucharist and Wednesday noon Eucharist will have that, too. You’ll see incremental progress week by week all summer.

The work of reconnecting our whole community–person to person–after all this time is about more than new electronics and Sunday morning logistics. And we are going to do that this way: we are going to have small group gatherings all summer. Think backyards and other outdoor or well ventilated spaces. The able people on the rector search committee are going to be running these groups, rebuilding our community through spiritual conversation, as we discover who we are now and who we want to be moving forward. They’ve been charged by the vestry to talk to absolutely everyone in our parish. So expect to hear from them and spend some good spiritual time meeting other people at All Saints’, or getting requanited with friends you haven’t spent time with in-person in a long time, and see what the Holy Spirit does when we are together once again face to face.

As part of this rebuilding the personal human aspect of our church and setting in motion the community wide aspect of our search for a new rector, I’ll be offering three online zoom sessions on Wednesday nights in June. Online is still good for things like that. The first one with some All Saints’ longtimers talking about past rector so that we all learn what the leadership at All Saints’ has looked like in living memory. If you have not been at All Saints’ for the last 60 years (and that is nearly all of you), this is your chance to learn what there is to learn about that time. The second one will be on what makes Episcopal Church’s thrive and what leads to their decline and closure We right now are setting All Saints’ up to succeed for the next decade and our community needs to be really clear about what makes that happen. The third and last one will be one who the prospective rectors are, what qualifies them for the job, what we know of who is out there, how you might know which one is for you. So if you can, please come. The kids will have there own summer mystery club with its possible in-person surprise.

If you are thinking that this is more of a extended announcement, let me tell you why it is a sermon. The church is an essential part of the experience of Jesus. Jesus himself said, “where two or three of you are gathered in my name, there I am” (Matthew 18:20). Gathering and the presence of Jesus go together. St. Paul said to the Corinthians, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). Belief in Jesus without concrete participation in the church is belief in a bodiless Jesus. Our work together in these coming months, in backyards and in our church building, is reclaiming physical space for Christ’s body in the world. This is gospel work. This is good news. The Pentecost story is the story of the founding of the Christian church. As you heard and experienced, how that story has always been told involves how just different letters and sounds are more than enough to divide the human race and how this new Christian church community is special because it unites and overcomes all such differences and divisions. The Holy Spirit creates this community and gives it life in that sacred space where people discover themselves, again and again, to be the body of Christ in the world. This is why Jesus told his apostles in today’s gospel that it is to their advantage that he go away because the Holy Spirit will extend his presence throughout all time and place by building up Christ’s body in the world. Whatever else there may be to be hopeful about in the world, this work, this community, is always something to celebrate and feel good about. It is always easier to destroy than to build. We are building now and I ask all of you to give yourselves to that sacred work now as we put the church and the community back together again in the coming months.

One last thing I would ask that you be aware of. Have any of you ever had a crisis and it was only when it was over that you realized how tired and exhausted you truly are? That happens a lot and the after-the-fact self-care is not something to skip over because it will catch up to you later. As exciting as our work is that we start today, remember that you all have endured a momentous crisis.

Once you are fully vaccinated, pay attention to that. Visit those aging relatives you haven’t seen, visit those grandchildren you may have only seen on screen, get those elective surgeries you have put off, rest without worry if that is something that you have not had in fourteen months, do whatever you need to do this summer to be fully back this fall. Because this fall at All Saints’ is one that deserves all of our best energy and it is not something to be missed. .

Our great staff at All Saints’ worked continuously the last fourteen months. There was no summer of 2020 for them. There weren’t vacations. We needed them too much in the crisis. Everything about their work was harder. If any of you this summer think that something could and should be happening faster than it is, you may be right. I’ve instructed the staff of All Saints’ to do exactly what I just counseled you to do. They are to get better, take their postponed vacations, and all such things. I’m also going to do some of that too. Because as my late dear grandmother used to tell me, “Paul you can’t burn the candle at both ends and in the middle too.”

I talked to our bishop last Thursday and he indicated that going forward we will continue to be somewhat more cautious with protective measures. You’ll see it in small liturgical changes, open windows, masks, and the like. I ask you patience about that too. As Bishop Alan explained to me, the reason for that is that we love you, all of you. And if you think about it, we have always been more careful with you and those you love than many other communities. What is the church if it is not a place that you can trust with you? We will never take that trust for granted. So please be understanding of our caution and care and know that it is a sign of our love for you and for the most vulnerable among us.

Happy Pentecost and may the Holy Spirit who founded the Christian Church to be the ongoing visible presence of Jesus Christ in the world, re-found and rebuild All Saints’ Church in our midst, and may we discover through that same Spirit how when two or more of gather in the name of Jesus, there he is. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Paul Kolbet