Though we may be physically distant we are connected to a God who loves us, and we are connected to each other, and all of the people that God loves. We may be in the wilderness for a while but I promise you every day of that wilderness we will be a sign of life or we will see a sign of life. (Time: 5:30.)
(The barking you hear in the background is Bishop Hughes' "Canine to the Ordinary," Abbey.)
This is Bishop Hughes of the Diocese of Newark, and I want to talk with you today about signs of life in the wilderness.
Lent One began for us in the traditional way, with us hearing the story of Jesus being in the wilderness for 40 days. Little did we know that we were beginning our own entry into the wilderness – not the one that we typically planned for Lent, with giving up something and a practice of introspection – but it was a wilderness in the way in which we practice our faith. And all because of the risk of infection due to a new virus that none of us had heard of before, the coronavirus, COVID-19.
On that very first Sunday in Lent One, we entered a wilderness where we no longer intincted at Communion – we couldn't dip our bread into the wine anymore. We could receive from the cup, but we could not dip our bread anymore. We also could not touch any more at the Peace, and we found different ways to greet each other. We wave, we bow, we made the sign of peace, but we did not shake hands, nor did we hug. This was a big change for us, and it marked an entry into a wilderness that we had no idea of how long it would stretch and how far it will go. Within a week we began to fast from public worship and refrain from all meetings and gatherings in our churches.
That was an extraordinary change for us, and right behind it, our governor has put out an order asking us to stay at home. For many of us this WAS wilderness experience. How are we to do our faith if we are not connected to each other? How can we maintain this physical distance and still be faithful people?
And that's where I see the signs of life – that it seems that when we left our buildings, we became Church in a completely different way. That we are connected to each other though we are physically distant. We're connected to each other and we are connected to God because of the extraordinary love that God has for us, that we have for God, and we have for each other and all of God's people.
One of my favorite signs of life has been joining you for worship on Sunday mornings. You know we've always come up with a million reasons why we couldn't make online worship happen, and suddenly it's happening everywhere in our diocese. The last two weeks I've watched somewhere between four or six different services, watching our churches at worship. I have been inspired by not only those services but especially our clergy, who have been preaching in such a way that they knock it out of the ballpark every single time. I've hit the end of the day on Sunday feeling inspired and energized and refreshed. And that is with gratitude to our clergy in those congregations that are online and who've been inviting others to join them online.
That sign of life in the wilderness isn't just a sign for us, because we Episcopalians who enjoy our private faith have been sharing our worship with other people, so that they could find their way. We've been sharing our prayers. I've also been incredibly moved with a number of you, laypeople and clergy, who have been sharing the Daily Office online – Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, Compline – there are days where I think, I sure would like to pray with somebody, and I just get on social media and scroll until I find someone and join them in prayer. That's a gift not just to the church, it's a gift to the entire world.
The thing about this wilderness that we've entered – it is a time of unknown and uncertainty, and uncertainty creates fear, and fear draws anxiety to it. And yet God shows us these signs of life. God helps us to participate in these signs of life. God helps us to share what we have, whether it's our prayer or our food or our ability to go to the grocery store for someone else. And reminds us that though we may be physically distant, we are connected to a God who loves us, and we are connected to each other, and all of the people that God loves. We may be in the wilderness for a while but I promise you every day of that wilderness, we will be a sign of life or we will see a sign of life.
You are a blessing to the world. Go and let your light shine because you are a sign of life. Not only to me, not only to the church, not only to our Lord, but to the whole, wide world.