It seems a little unreal that it’s already Easter time again. This last year has been a strange and trying one with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the restrictions and shutdowns. A year ago, I was crushed to realize that we wouldn’t be able to hold our usual Easter services. As the weeks rolled by, Sundays seemed strangely quiet. We continued to put on a service with music and a message for the radio broadcast and the podcast for our website. But it was with a “skeleton crew”, just a handful of people to help us continue our radio presence.
Now here we are at Easter time again, and we want people to come back and worship and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in person at church again. But we also know that there are still many who have fears and concerns about the virus. So, like many churches, we are going ahead with Easter services, but it’s not “full steam ahead.” We’re forging ahead even as we acknowledge the lingering reluctance of some. Please join with us again when you feel that you can.
When I came down with the virus after Easter last year, time seemed to pause. I had a relatively mild case, for which I am very thankful. But every day was the same: I felt tired and achy, and I slept a lot, more than 20 hours out of 24 on some days. I woke up, ate breakfast; slept, ate lunch; slept, ate supper; then went to bed early. For days, the routine never varied. I told my wife I got sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Last year when we were first asked to shut down our country because of the coronavirus, it was “two weeks to flatten the curve.” A young friend of mine lamented on Facebook: “What will we do if we can’t be in church for Easter?” And I said, “Oh, we’ll be back in church before Easter!”
Now we have established that I am not a prophet.
It is astonishing to me that we are a year into all of the various COVID restrictions that unfortunately have become our new normal. Social distancing; wearing a mask; asking “Did you remember you mask?” when you go out; getting food to go and eating in your car (again); all the instructions and cautions from the media and our government that seem to change on a regular basis; people angry if you don’t follow all the (current) guidelines; people angry if you try to follow any of the guidelines; and lots and lots of time at home, especially for school-age children and teenagers…all these things have unfortunately become part of our daily lives. When will it end? Some say we should lift all the restrictions now. Others tell us it might still be a year or two.
Last week our family lost one of the finest men I’ve ever known. He was my wife’s father and my father-in-law, Ray Kegley. Our kids called him “Grandpa Kegley.” When our first grandson was little, he just called him “Kegwey.”
When I started dating Rae Anne in high school, one of my classmates told me he had once seen her father grab a wooden extension ladder by the first and third rungs and set it up against a house. Ray worked from the time he was a small boy as a contractor, first with his father and older brother Jack, and then on his own. Not long after I started dating his daughter I saw Ray without his shirt on. He was built like a bodybuilder, only he used concrete blocks and 4x4s instead of barbells and dumbbells.
We only told a handful of people about this when we were going through it. It was my wife’s call, and she didn’t want to tell everybody unless there was something to tell. So we told our kids, and a handful of others, and asked them to pray with us about it. And let me say up front that the news was good. But after the fact, I’d like to tell you about the best Christmas gift I ever received. And it was on December 17th, eight days before Christmas.
We didn’t get to celebrate Easter at church the way we wanted, because of the coronavirus pandemic. We probably won’t get to celebrate Christmas at church the way we would like to, either. But we still celebrated Easter, and we’ll celebrate Christmas, too. Those two holidays mark the “bookends” of the Christian faith. Christmas celebrates the Incarnation, when God became a man in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. And Easter celebrates Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, after He paid for our sins by dying on the cross (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Christmas is the beginning of the Easter story, and Easter completes the story begun at Christmas.
The word Christmas means literally “the Christ mass”. It is the service at Christmastime in which liturgical churches celebrate The Eucharist, or what we call The Lord’s Supper. The word mass comes from the Latin word missa, which means “dismissal”. At the end of the service the priest would say “Ite, missa est” (or, “Go; it is the dismissal”). In time, that word came to mean the entire church service.
There is a reason we have Deacons and other boards and committees. Proverbs 24:6 says “…for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.” A good idea can be made better by the input and perspective of others. And what seems to be a good idea at first can be revealed to have some serious flaws when it is discussed and prayed over with others.
Back on June 28th of this year I said something in my Sunday morning message that seemed like a good idea at the time. Actually, it seemed like a great idea. It also was a good illustration for the passage I was preaching on, Luke 8:20-26, where Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. And blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.” We looked at the reality that being poor or hungry isn’t necessarily a guarantee of sainthood. Poor people can be mean old sinners, too, and the hunger Jesus was talking about was a spiritual hunger for righteousness. Nevertheless, people are poor, and hunger is an ongoing problem, even here in America. It’s hard to talk to people about Jesus when their stomachs are empty.
I’ve always had trouble going to sleep. It seems like it takes me forever. I couldn’t begin to count the times I’ve looked at the clock at 2:00, 3:00, or even 4:00 in the morning. Even as a small child I can remember lying awake at night while all the rest of my family was asleep, crying because I couldn’t sleep.
I think I come by it honestly. My grandfather could sit or lie down and go to sleep whenever he wanted. But my grandmother had difficulty going to sleep and staying asleep. As a teenager, I’d stay all night at their house and stay up to watch the late show. Grandma would get up about every hour or hour and a half, for one reason or another. She called it “prowling”. She had various explanations: “I can’t sleep.” “I’ve got to go to the bathroom.” Or my favorite: “My stomach’s upset. I need to drink some buttermilk.” (I never understood that one. Frankly, drinking buttermilk doesn’t settle my stomach.)
On a recent Tuesday morning I drove to the church and walked in, ready to begin the week’s tasks. Ordinarily, after checking in with the secretary to see if anything needs my attention, I go right to my desk, unload my briefcase and open my Bible.
On this particular day, though, I stopped to talk with our cashiers. Then I talked with some ladies who had come in to finish painting one of our hallways. Then one of my colleagues in the ministry stopped by, and we talked for a while. After that conversation, I had a message to call someone; when I returned the call, I had a happy talk with the folks on the other end. In fact, all of these conversations were happy ones that left me feeling charged up and encouraged. (You can’t say that about every conversation.)
As I prepared to leave for lunch, I told our secretary, “It’s been a good morning, but it hasn’t gone anything like what I’d expected. I’m gonna go eat lunch, then come back and take another crack at it.” (She was glad to hear me say that, because I was supposed to have been writing an article for her to put in the next newsletter…this article, in fact. Never antagonize a church secretary who needs an article.)