“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37
Gabriel says this at the Annunciation referencing both Mary’s own soon-to-be pregnancy and the pregnancy of her cousin Elizabeth. This text, properly belonging to the Annunciation, is also read this year on the fourth Sunday of Advent. How appropriate that this year would be the year that the lectionary harkens back to the Annunciation.
What you may not realize is that the shutdown happened little more than a week before the Feast of the Annunciation. I only marked that timing because a seminary colleague and I had planned and prepared a unique service for the Annunciation, and it was part of the first batch of service cancellations before we had truly figured out alternate methods of gathering. I find the timing of the original shut down and the recall of the Annunciation passage in this year’s lectionary significant because often we mark the time of the Annunciation without feeling the length of that nine-month wait. That cannot be said of us this year. It has been nine months since we have gathered together fully for the Eucharist, and we have felt every minute of that wait.
I miss the Eucharist, and I say that even as we have begun to celebrate the Eucharist in outdoor services. How strange to have been made a deacon, but to have only set the table four times since my ordination! It has been a balm to my soul to stand at the altar and pray the Eucharistic prayer together, to look at your faces, half-covered though they are, and pass the bread between us. But those of you who have been able to attend might feel as I feel. It is beautiful. It is right. It is good, but it is still incomplete.
It is incomplete because as I look upon the faces who are there, there are many more faces who are not. Those who are not there have chosen the better part. You have waited when we could not, and you have decided for your own safety or for the safety of others not to attend. Any gathering at this time, even as careful and mindful as we are, carries risk. And I have seen the tears in your eyes as you talk about missing communion, missing the deep connection we share as the people of God in our Eucharist. We are all missing the gathering of our full parish, and that feeling will not go away until we can gather fully. So, listen to that desire. Nourish the desire for communion and connection in your hearts. It is good, and right, and joyous. But do not let it distract.
We are fortunate to live in a place where communion is normally a weekly celebration. But there are those in the wider Anglican Communion who, due to war, poverty, or isolation, can go months or years without access to communion. Even in our own diocese there are churches without their own priest who may get communion only monthly. We are privileged to celebrate the Eucharist weekly in normal circumstances but let this time of going without or of communing in small groups be a time to remember all those who have no regular access to communion. Let it be a time to grow spiritually in new and different ways. Let it be a time to join with us in praying the daily offices, of returning to the ancient practices of the church that nourished early Christians to lead a life of love and service. This is not a fast we have chosen, but we can decide to see it as a gift and not a hindrance. We can notice within ourselves those things we have taken for granted and now miss. We can lean into the longing we feel, nourish our love for our community, and return in time renewed and refreshed once it is safe to regather.
In the meantime, we will still miss the Eucharist as enacted by our full parish. The drawing together of our community into the vast body of Christ, enacted in the embodied spiritual practice of Eucharist is one of the delights of the Church, one which has no equal. It is natural to desire to return to this practice, but we do not stop being the Body of Christ if we are unable to celebrate the Eucharist as a full body. What was done in our baptism cannot be undone by masks, social distance, necessary safety precautions, and quarantine. Our baptism is not even overcome by death, and if it cannot be overcome by death, then nothing else can even come close.
Unlike Mary, who with us anticipates the coming of the Christ child in this Advent season, we know the end of the pandemic will not come as 2020 ends. Her nine-month wait is almost up, but ours is not. Vaccines are being made and approved, but it will be well into 2021 before herd immunity is achieved. And even then, our world may be different. It feels hard, sometimes impossible, to take necessary safety precautions that overturn our lives, and to keep taking those precautions month after month, but nothing is impossible with God. As Christmas nears, remember Immanuel, “God with us.” God is with us even now. As we continue our safety practices, wearing masks, conducting services outside, or keeping ourselves quarantined for our own safety or the safety of others, do these things out of the deep love of God which overflows from our lives into others’ lives. Let the sacrifices we make, whether large or small, be a gift of love from God to us and to others. God is with us, and nothing will be impossible with God. We can choose to live in the love that God has shown us and love others, even when our lives are upside down. So, lean into God and lean into each other. God’s love is infinite and flows between us, now and forever.