We may each remember an occasion when we started something new, possibly as a young child at primary school, more likely as an older child on our first day at secondary school or starting a first or new job. Starting something naturally evokes feelings of anticipation and excitement, coupled with nervousness – will I like the people? Will they like me? Will I be happy and fulfilled there?
Years on from such ‘first experiences’, we may find ourselves returning to a once-familiar place after an absence, and again those same feelings can well-up, coupled with wondering, will things have changed? or will I have changed?
There is much good scriptural precedent for such feelings, indeed starting over is a theme of Pentecost, which is on 23rd May this year, when we celebrate the birth of the church.
Many of the followers of Jesus who gathered for worship, including in the Temple, not long after the rising of Jesus, were the same people who’d gathered to worship God in the Temple before the events of Good Friday and Easter Day. But things were very different. Jesus was no longer with them as he formerly was, and instead they were supported, guided, and inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, it was a wholly new beginning. They were starting over.
As restrictions ease, I wonder how returning to church may feel? The reality is that however much we yearn for a return to normal, how we used to do things, many aspects of life won’t be normal as we continue to observe COVID-precautions. In church the familiarity of where we sit or any notion of ‘our pew’ has been disturbed, and we’ll continue to wear a mask, refrain from singing or won’t be able to enjoy a cuppa with friends around a table for a while longer.
Instead, we have found new ways of worshipping, of connecting, or supporting. Some adaptions have been of a technical nature, but much adaption has been made by us in heart and practice. We have also lost much, not least being able to respond to or address the grief and joys that have been experienced. We have missed much; we have lost much.
Some adaptions are widely seen as temporary; there are others that we are learning from and may continue going forward. For example, I’ve received encouragement that when/as our services become more ‘normal’ that I continue to offer shorter addresses and reflections together with meditation and continue to use images and music to aid our worship and prayer.
The classical scholar and poet, A E Houseman, wrote in his poem, A Shropshire Lad
Into my heart an air that kills from yon far country blows:
what are those blue remembered hills,
what spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain,
the happy highways where I went
and cannot come again.
I suspect that we won’t or can’t return to the old normal, life as it was pre-COVID, now a land of lost content. But there will be new patterns to develop, and some of what we have undertaken during the past year we may wish to continue. Change can be daunting, for the waters may feel uncharted. But in this month of Pentecost, we may remember God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, who has guided, comforted and challenged past generations, and is with us as we navigate a new course forward in our church and personal lives. As we start over, we are not alone, for God, Emmanuel, is with us.
May the God of justice and peace, life and well-being, be with you,