Monthly Archives: August 2021

The Miracle of Healing-What it Is and Isn’t


Isaiah 35:4-7a

Psalm 146

James 2:1-17

Mark 7:24-37

Prayer of the Day: Gracious God, throughout the ages you transform sickness into health and death into life. Open us to the power of your presence and make us a people ready to proclaim your promises to the whole world, through Jesus Christ, our healer and Lord.

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
   and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. Isaiah 35:5-6.

What does it mean to be healed? I asked that question of myself a lot over the last few weeks, during which I spent the better part of each day visiting my wife at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. As those of you who follow me know, Sesle sustained a severe spinal cord injury necessitating spinal surgery and intense inpatient therapy. During our time at Spaulding, I made a few observations about the healing process. First, healing is miraculous. We are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:13-15. It is nothing short of breath taking to witness how nerves reawaken and muscles regain their power to move once flaccid limbs. It is marvelous to behold how hearing, taste and smell often sharpen to compensate for lost sight. As far as we have come with our medical technology, the best we can do is aid the human body as it repairs itself-until finally it does not.

That brings me to my second observation. Healing is always incomplete this side of the Resurrection. Everyone Jesus ever healed died of some other human aliment-just as each one of us finally will. We are inescapably mortal, no matter how desperately we try to cover it up with lotions and creams; no matter how rigorously we exercise; no matter how wholesomely we eat; no matter how effectively we hide the reality of death away in end stage hospital rooms, nursing homes and hospice facilities. At best, healing gives one a reprieve. To be healed is to be given more life, more health and more opportunities to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God for whatever time we have left. In that respect, healing is no different than waking up in the morning to a new day. The question is, will you live it joyfully, thankfully and obediently as God’s faithful creature and beloved child?

Third, healing never returns one to the status quo. When illness is serious, it leaves scars. Recall that the Resurrected Christ still bears the wounds of the cross. Sometimes those scars are visible-as were the third degree burns left on one Spaulding inpatient I encountered. Sometimes they lie deep beneath the surface manifesting themselves in nightmares, panic attacks and spells of depression. Sometimes scars make one stronger, wiser and more compassionate. Often they leave one crippled, bitter and withdrawn. The difference between healing and worsening sickness frequently turns on how one’s scars are treated, the meaning given to them and the degree to which one is able to make peace with them.

Finally, and most important, true healing is cosmic. That is to say, we can never be made whole individually. Not until “God is all in all” will we finally be healed fully and completely. I Corinthians 15:28. Only when the broken bodies and wounded minds of all God’s people are finally woven into the fabric of the new creation can it be said that we have been truly healed. We ought to know that. If this Covid 19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that our own health can never be assured until the day that disease of this kind is given no more slums, no more malnourished populations and no more space where persons are deprived of basic health care. Such healing as we experience in our lives, as marvelous as it is, remains but a sign and a witness to the ultimate healing God desires for the whole creation and of which the resurrection of the crucified one is a sign and a down payment.   

Here is a poem by Joan Aleshire that speaks of illness, morality and a healing that transcends them both.


If the tests come out wrong, if the cells
begin to fail in their quiet weaving;
if the body that so lightly carries
this life betrays me — some night
when the pines talk to one another,
when no moon would tell my secret, snow
would fill my steps, I could go to that hill
so far beyond my neighbor’s it has no name.
Walking and waiting for numbness, I’d feel
the blade of air I’d chosen for my chest.
And if winter were too far away, the water
I watched today could take me — swift
churn of Otter Creek Falls, fanning out
smooth, moving from shore. Entering
such depth, a body would be part
of a motion, alive in its last time.

The doctor sensed the first tear
in his own tissue. The hand
with scythe-neat nails began to belong
to someone rebellious, his feet
were marble boats headed different ways,
his tongue turned against the thoughts
that tried to guide it. His country lost
its history — the childhood house
with its wings and boxwood borders,
the woman he noticed as she turned away.
He dreamed of dusty arenas, every exit
barred, a roar coming from the bull chute.

Doctor, he knew there’d be no reversal;
no way to cut or soothe. The ocean was open
all the way to the skyline; generous and deep.
How did he choose the time — after a day
of stumbling, or one so bright it tempted him
to stay? One night of no moon, he listened
to his wife breathing deep and even,
slipped back the broad cuff of sheet. Standing
he let his night clothes fall like snakeskin,
rustling down. He stepped in the last future
he could make — cold salt marking his ankles,
his calves as he waded in. Thighs, balls,
belly, chest. The tide began to love him
then, its pulse pressing his nipples,
answering his heart. He kept on,
letting in the water that would be his new air,
opening to the larger world, the failed body
lost to the final healing.

Source: The Yellow Transparents, Joan Ashire (Pub. by Four Way Books, 1997); also published in Poetry, (August 1988). Joan Alshire was born in 1947. She lives in Vermont where she is a library trustee and the founder of SAGE, an organization that supports sustainable agricultural education and the arts. She has written several poems touching on human frailty, mortality and resiliency. You can sample more of her poems at the Poetry Foundation website.

The Sin of Forgetfulness


Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

Psalm 15

James 1:17-27

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Prayer of the Day: O God our strength, without you we are weak and wayward creatures. Protect us from all dangers that attack us from the outside, and cleanse us from all evil that arises from within ourselves, that we may be preserved through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children—” Deuteronomy 4:9.  

This warning comes from Moses at what seems like the end of Israel’s long journey from slavery in Egypt through the perils of the wilderness to the brink of the Promise Land. Moses knows, however, that the journey is far from over and that he will not be with his people on the next stage. This is Moses’ last opportunity to address the people. He knows that Israel will face the challenge of transitioning from nomadic to sedentary existence. He knows that Israel will encounter the perils of warfare. But these are not the most formidable dangers the people will face. The greatest threat to Israel’s existence is forgetfulness. So Moses warns the people emphatically not to forget “the things your eyes have seen.”  Israel must never forget that they were slaves in Egypt and that God in God’s mercy liberated them from a life of bondage and opened up for them a new existence governed not by the gods of a ruling class, but the God who is champion of the marginalized. No longer would they be slaves whose bodies and labor belong to human overlords. Henceforth, they are to live under the governance of just laws that protect the “widow and the fatherless” and apply equally to citizens and resident aliens.

Forgetfulness is a natural human trait. Often, it is selective. As Barbara Strisand sings in, The Way We Were, theme song of the movie by that name:

Memories, may be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget

There was much in Israel’s history that Israel might well have wished to forget: the people’s panic and cowardice on the shore of the Red Sea as the Egyptian army approached and Moses appealed for them to trust in God; their ingratitude for the food, water and protection God had provided for forty years in the wilderness; their initial refusal to enter into the Promised Land-which resulted in their forty years of wilderness wandering. They might have wished they had a more flattering narrative to recite. Thus, Moses warns them later on in his final remarks: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’” Deuteronomy 8:17.

Israel took this admonition to heart, including in her worship liturgies hymns such as the following:

We have heard with our ears, O God,
   our ancestors have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
   in the days of old:
you with your own hand drove out the nations,
   but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples,
   but them you set free;
for not by their own sword did they win the land,
   nor did their own arm give them victory;
but your right hand, and your arm,
   and the light of your countenance,
   for you delighted in them.  Psalm 44:1-3.

Nonetheless, the people frequently did forget that their freedom and their land were gifts that came with heavy responsibilities. Israel often succumbed to the temptation to treat its status as God’s people as an entitlement rather than gift. This forgetfulness finally led to Israel’s conquest and exile.

The church requires the same stern warning given by Moses. Too frequently we have forgotten that we have been called to serve those deemd “least” within the human family and imagined instead that our status as God’s chosen people is one of privilege. We have rejoiced in the conviction that we are “saved,” but forgotten the reason for which we were saved. We have often traded the integrity of our witness for political influence, social recognition and wealth. We have confused patriotic aspirations with the demands of discipleship and white middle class respectability for morality. We have courted the favor of the wealthy and powerful while shunning contact with the poor, homeless and marginalized. In sum, we have forgotten our story or, perhaps more accurately, traded it away for an easier and more flattering narrative.

This is why we have the season of Lent and Holy Week. There are no heroes in the Passion Narrative; only traders, deserters and cowards. Judas the traitor. Peter the denier. James and John who fell asleep at their posts. The twelve who turned and fled at the approach of danger. We tell these unflattering stories on ourselves to remind ourselves who we are. We are the people who failed Jesus in his time of greatest need-and too frequently fail him still. Yet we are also spiritual descendants of the ones the resurrected Lord sought out as they cowered behind locked doors, sending them out with the good news of God’s inbreaking reign. Faithless as we often are, God is ever faithful. Forgetful as we are of God’s kindness toward us, God remembers God’s promises to us and continues to send prophets, preachers and teachers to remind us who we are and what God has done and continues to do for us.

Truthful remembering is often a painful process. Nothing illustrates the point better than the fanatic resistance of white politicians and their constituents to educational efforts to come to terms with the role played by racism and white supremacy in our nation’s history. There is much in our national past that a lot of us would like to forget, much of our story that we would rather remain untold. Many of us would prefer that the whitewashed (pun intended) version of history we were taught in school remain unchallenged. The good news the church has to offer here is that the truth, painful as it might be, sets us free. Being reminded who we are can be devastating, but if at the same time we are reminded who God is, it can be redemptive. We cannot change what the past tells us about who we are, but Jesus’ good word to us is that God’s future, not our past, can control who we will be tomorrow. I believe the American Church is in a marvelous position to give our nation the gift of repentance and a vision of the future it so desperately needs. But until we first receive it ourselves, we have nothing to offer. For that reason, I have joined the call of many believers for our churches, particularly those that are predominantly white and more particularly my own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to commit to the making of reparations to Black American churches and their ministries. What is the purpose of the church if not to remind the world what it means to be human and show it what justice and reconciliation look like?

Here is a poem in which Langston Hughes calls upon his black sisters and brothers to remember. It is perhaps in some respets the kind of remembering to which Moses called Israel when the people were still enslaved in Egypt. It speaks to Americans a harsh, but true word. We would do well not to forget it.


The days of bondage—
And remembering—
Do not stand still.
Go to the highest hill
And look down upon the town
Where you are yet a slave.
Look down upon any town in Carolina
Or any town in Maine, for that matter,
Or Africa, your homeland—
And you will see what I mean for you to see—
             The white hand:
             The thieving hand.
             The white face:
             The lying face.
             The white power:
             The unscrupulous power
That makes of you
The hungry wretched thing you are today.

Source: New Haven: Beinecke Library, Yale University, (Published in Poetry, January 2009). Langston Hughes was an important African American voice in the “Harlem Renaissance” of the 1920s. Though well-educated and widely traveled, Hughes’ poetry never strayed far from his roots in the African American community. Early in his career, Hughes’ work was criticized by some African American intellectuals for portraying what they viewed as an unflattering representation of back life. In a response to these critics, Hughes replied, “I didn’t know the upper class Negroes well enough to write much about them. I knew only the people I had grown up with, and they weren’t people whose shoes were always shined, who had been to Harvard, or who had heard of Bach. But they seemed to me good people, too.”  Today Langston Hughes is recognized globally as a towering literary figure of the 20th Century. You can read more about Hughes and discover more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website (from which the above quote is taken).

How Not to Stop a Bad Guy with a Gun


Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

Psalm 34:15-22

Ephesians 6:10-20

John 6:56-69

Prayer of the Day Holy God, your word feeds your people with life that is eternal. Direct our choices and preserve us in your truth, that, renouncing what is false and evil, we may live in you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:11-12.

For pacifists like myself, Paul’s call to “put on the whole armor of God” is a little off putting. Sure, I know he is speaking metaphorically-just as I know that “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “The Son of God Goes Forth to war” are not calls literally to engage in violence. Still, the church’s complicity with and sanction for violence over the centuries makes me wonder whether we should not relegate the two aforementioned hymns to the archives and omit Paul’s words here from the lectionary. The singing of such hymns and the reading of this lesson under the shadow of the crusades, the inquisition, the Thirty Years War and the spread of Christianity on the heels of colonialism strikes me as historically tone deaf. Paul’s use of military imagery might at one time have been an apt metaphor for a marginalized church engaging a hostile empire. But when a church that was the religious arm of the empire for a millennium and continues to be (or tries to be) the mediator of cultural norms in North America and Western Europe takes up Paul’s refrain, it sounds in a whole different and sinister key. It is a little like singing “We Shall Overcome” at a Trump rally.

Then again, maybe Paul’s language is precisely what we need. There is a subversive bit of irony in Paul’s turning the military engines of terror employed by Rome to crush its enemies into metaphors for the church’s war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Paul emphasizes-and this is critical-that “our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh.” The devil, of course, would have us believe precisely the opposite. The devil would convince us that our struggle is against blood and flesh, against other human beings made in God’s image, against our neighbors who differ from us in terms of their language, ethnicity, national identity, religion or political convictions. Contrary to what many folks believe, the devil has no interest in who wins any war. The devil is content to have us at each other’s throats. No matter who prevails on the battle field, the devil always wins every war.

Saint Paul is making the point, often lost on too many Christians, that violence is not a weapon within the disciple’s arsenal. National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre famously said, following the horrific Sandy Hook child massacre, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” Nothing so clearly repudiates Mr. LaPierre’s claim than the tragic events we are witnessing in Afghanistan these days. Severe criticism has been leveled against President Biden and his administration for his handling of that military misadventure. Much of that criticism is well deserved. But we should not forget that this war began twenty years ago with overwhelming support of the American people and the sanction of both houses of Congress. The war in Afghanistan was launched with the unquestioned belief that, with enough fire power and patriotism, the Taliban could be driven from power and a beacon of western style democracy built in its place. But, despite trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives and many more Afghan casualties, the Taliban still won.

What we are seeing today in Afghanistan is not the failure of any general’s military strategy or the incompetence of any particular president. We are simply learning the lesson we should have learned almost five decades ago in Vietnam: an idolatrous confidence in military power is not a recipe for justice, peace or security. If the most powerful and advanced military machine the world has ever seen could not stop a motely crew like the Taliban, what makes Mr. LaPierre and his followers think that more guns in more homes will cure domestic violence, violence in our streets and violent attacks upon our schools? More importantly, what makes people who claim the title “Christian” think that espousing such views is in any way consistent with the faith they profess?  

Saint Paul points us in a different direction. The problem is not the guy holding the gun. The problem is the hateful ideology leading the guy to believe s/he needs a gun, that the gun can solve his/her problems and that there is no solution beyond use of the gun. According to Paul, the only way to stop a bad guy, with or without a gun, is by speaking the truth, living righteously, practicing peace, waking in faith and trusting in God’s power alone to save. Note well that these are all defensive weapons. The only offensive weapon Saint Paul gives us is the “sword of the Spirit,” that is, the word of God’s good news we are called to proclaim. Ephesians 6:13-17. Paul makes clear that this good news is that Jesus’ has reconciled all humanity to God and thereby brings hostility between all members of the human family to and end: “peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” Ephesians 2:14-18. True, these weapons might not stop the bad guy before the bad guy shoots you. But that is merely an occupational hazard of discipleship. Jesus wasn’t speaking metaphorically when he told his disciples that all who followed him must be prepared wind up on the cross.

The bottom line here is that there is no rationale for any disciple of Jesus to be in possession of a weapon designed to kill people.[i] That is and always has been the orthodox teaching of the church from the New Testament era to the present. Historically, the church has carved out a narrow exception to that rule for persons serving as agents of the government for national defense or law enforcement under what has been loosely defined as “the just war doctrine.” As anyone who follows me knows, I have grave concerns about this dogma and have urged its reconsideration on numerous occasions. But it seems to me that, at a bare minimum, every bishop and pastor should be saying to the church in no uncertain terms that, if you own a weapon and you are neither a police officer nor a member of the military, you are committing the sin of idolatry. Yes, I know how deeply ingrained the gun culture is in our society, how divisive Paul’s pacifist message can be and the ramifications for the professional and financial well being of both pastors and the church generally. But what I am espousing here is not anything new or radical. It is simply what the church has taught since its inception and what all bishops, pastors and deacons should be preaching. So put on your grownup pants and do it!

Here is Saint Francis’ prayer, not merely for peace, but that God would make him an instrument of peace. It is, I believe, a fitting response to our reading from Saint Paul.

Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.

O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

Source: This English translation of the Prayer of Saint Francis is taken from the Lutheran Book of Worship (c. 1978 by Augsburg Fortress Press). The attribution of the prayer to Saint Francis is doubtful. The first published text of the prayer appeared only in 1912. The prayer is not a part of any Franciscan Order liturgy, nor is it found in any of Francis’ known writings. Nonetheless, it captures well the piety and spiritual outlook of the saint.  

[i] I deliberately choose the word “weapon” over “gun” because I understand that some gun owners use their guns strictly for sport, for hunting or to protect their livestock from predators. In these circumstances, I concede that a gun is no different from a power tool that is inherently dangerous, but when properly used serves a legitimate need. Such gun owners are to be distinguished from those who insist that their guns are necessary for self defense.

Sunday, August 16th

Once again, due to circumstances beyond my control, I have been unable to produce a reflection on this week’s lessons. I offer instead an artice published six years ago today in hopes that you will find it still relevent and helpful in your own meditations.

Peter's Outer Cape Portico


Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34:9-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

PRAYER OF THE DAY:Ever-loving God, your Son gives himself as living bread for the life of the world. Fill us with such a knowledge of his presence that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life to serve you continually, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

I have never been a fan of “home schooling.” That is partly because I believe one important objective of education is training children to live in and take responsibility for the larger society. Public schools are and should be places where children are confronted with people expressing ideas, holding opinions and practicing beliefs that are different from their own precisely because ours is a nation founded on the belief that such differing folk can nevertheless work together for the common good. I must also confess that my skepticism…

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Church-The Place Where Bodies Matter


1 Kings 19:4-8

Psalm 34:1-8

Ephesians 4:25—5:2

John 6:35, 41-51

Prayer of the Day: Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven to be the true bread that gives life to the world. Give us this bread always, that he may live in us and we in him, and that, strengthened by this food, we may live as his body in the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51.

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…” As many of you will no doubt recall, that was the tag line for Jaws II, the first of three sequels to the original thriller/horror flick about an oversized great white shark with an appetite for swimmers on the fictional New England resort community of Amity Island. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not seen any of these films. But from what I can tell, it seems that no matter how many times you kill the damn shark, it keeps coming back. White sharks, by the way, are no strangers to us here on the Outer Cape. They are seen off shore at our beaches with some regularity. Thankfully, however, the real ones seem mainly interested in seals. On those rare occasions when great whites attack humans, it is usually a case of mistaken identity. A swimmer on a boggy board looks a lot like a seal from a shark’s point of view.   

But sharks are the least of our worries out here on the Cape these days. Just when we thought it was safe to venture out to plays, crowded restaurants and densely populated beaches, just when we though it was finally safe to take our masks off-Covid 19 reared its ugly head again just like that confounded shark. So, we are back to social distancing, wearing masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces and keeping track of who comes to worship so that we can contact trace if that becomes necessary. This time the stakes are not quite as high. Massachusetts generally and the Cape in particular have a high rate of vaccination. Though the new Delta variant has proven that it can infect vaccinated people, the symptoms of the disease for those vaccinated generally range from mild to non-existent. Only two hospitalizations have occurred and no deaths. Still, it is demoralizing having to defer once more getting back to some semblance of normal living.

The good news is that we will eventually get beyond Covid 19. For the church, that is very good news indeed. Our faith is all about human contact-flesh on flesh. Our gospel lesson makes that exceedingly clear. Talk about “eating the flesh” of Jesus might rub our modern sensibilities the wrong way. But we Lutherans take these terms quite literally. There is a story about how Martin Luther went to debate doctrinal issues with his fellow reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. Among the topics under discussion was the presence of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. There was a lot of pressure on Luther to find enough common ground with Zwingli to enable an alliance with the evangelical churches of the Lutheran persuasion. It was said that the first thing Luther did before the debate even began was to write these words on the table in front of him: “This is my body.” He felt he needed a graphic reminder that, on this point of Jesus’ actual, real and bodily presence in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, there could be no compromise.

Some might accuse Luther of being overly stubborn. To be fair, he had that tendency. But I believe Luther was onto something here. Faith needs the assurance that God will be present where God promises to be present. Of course, God’s presence is not limited to the Eucharist. One might encounter God anywhere. But there is one place you can always count on finding God and the “yes” to all of God’s promises. That place is the Lord’s table where Christ himself invites us to “take and eat” the bread of eternal life. For that reason, it is important that the world know that the Body of Christ gathers at 9:30 a.m. just off Route 6 in Wellfleet at the Chapel of Saint James the Fisherman and off Highway 137 at Saint Peter’s Lutheran in Harwich at the same time. The Christian faith is all about gathered bodies-old bodies, young bodies, healthy bodies, ill bodies, crippled bodies, restless bodies of bored children, screaming bodies of babies, all kinds of bodies that are members in the larger Body of Christ. Without bodies, there is no church.

That brings me to the pressing topic of “virtual” worship. In some respects, there is nothing really new here. The radio and television have been broadcasting worship services for decades. I met more than a few people back in the 80s who told me they preferred to watch the late Rev. Robert Schuler in his Chrystal Cathedral to attending any local church. “The music is so beautiful and that man’s preaching is so inspiring!” And it’s true. None of the small steeple churches I have belonged to or served over the years could ever come close to putting together a choir like that of the Chrystal Cathedral. Our organs could never compete on a scale with the Cathedral. What’s more, Pastor Schuler and his congregation neither know nor care that you are sitting on your couch in your PJs with a cup of coffee, munching on a donut. They don’t expect you to get up on the early side, shower, shave and get dressed up. Most important of all, while they might appeal to you for money, they won’t pass the plate to you in front of the whole congregation so you don’t have to feel awkward about hanging onto your money.

I tried to point out to these TV worshipers that, while all of this might seem appealing on the surface, there was a serious down side. Rev. Schuler, I reminded them, would not show up to visit them in the hospital; he wouldn’t reach out to them if their loved one were to become seriously ill; nobody from the Crystal Cathedral would show up with a casserole, a hug and a sympathetic ear at the deathbed of their spouses. In short, there would be no Body to share the pain of its member. The choir would go right on singing praises and the pastor would keep on preaching inspiring sermons as though the tragedies of their television audience did not exist-because for the Crystal Cathedral crowd, they don’t.

When the Covid 19 pandemic struck, our churches were faced with challenges we had never before encountered. There was no precedent, guideline or set of rules to direct us as we tried to hold our congregations together under the strictures of quarantine, social distancing and restrictions on travel. I had the good fortune to have retired from ministry a couple of years before Covid 19. I must say, though, that I stand in awe of the faithfulness, creativity and courage with which pastors I know met these challenges. I would not want anything I say here to be taken as a criticism of what any pastor did during this pastoral crisis that, thankfully, I never had to face. But now that the crisis is passing-albeit at a slower pace than any of us would like-I think we need to examine the pastoral and liturgical practices we developed during the pandemic and consider what role, if any, they should play in a post-pandemic church.

Let me say from the outset that a congregation’s use of virtual platforms to maintain its worship, ministry and witness during a pandemic is entirely different from what Schuler and his ilk were doing. Nonetheless, the issue remains the same, namely, if we have no bodily presence, is it still church? I worry that recording services in cyberspace invites worshipers to skip the trouble of being present on the Lord’s Day in favor of squeezing worship into a convenient spot in one’s schedule. I worry that the Zoom conference might usurp meeting around the table over coffee. I worry that we will lose in the depths of cyberspace the tear welling up in one’s eye as they tell us that things are all right even though they are not. I worry that future generations of pastors educated increasingly by virtual means might never know most of their colleagues other than as two dimensional disembodied heads. I worry that we might well be undermining the miracle of the Incarnation and substituting “virtual” presence for “real” presence.

I am not suggesting we reject all things virtual. The internet has opened up some exciting opportunities for expanding the church’s mission. For example, many of our homebound folks have said to me that, since we started virtual worship, they have never felt so connected to their church. I believe that virtual platforms can be a vital source of outreach and support for many people who, for various reasons, simply cannot be present. These platforms also offer us an opportunity to show members of the public what we do-and God knows there are enough popular misconceptions these days about what actually goes on in church! Virtual presence does not necessarily negate real presence. But I think we need to take care that it is used in a way that nourishes and facilitates rather than inhibits or undermines the public gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day. Thus, I look forward to having some deep and nuanced conversations about the place of virtual platforms in the life of the church.

Here is a poem that celebrates our bodily existence as a precious gift.

After the Pandemic

There will be packed stadiums,

Crowded streets,

Subway cars with bodies

Standing shoulder to shoulder,

Face to face;

Sweaty, stinky bodies

In long lines.

There will be beaches

Populated by nearly naked bodies

Sitting on blankets

And perched in chairs

In close proximity.

Life will be much as it was before

Except for our knowing now

The sacredness of touch,

The holiness of faces,

And the infinite worth

Of body touching body.

Source: Anonymous