During this period of Covid restrictions the challenges of invitation has been at the forefront.
I’ve done a wedding, a baptism and 7 funerals – and all of them faced challenges of limited invitations. Funerals limited to 10, weddings 5, although fortunately the wedding I took were allowed to have 10 as it was still at the early stages of lockdowns and the first funeral we could have 30. And when we had that small 3 week window between the first and second wave we could have church services resumed but we were limited to 20 members. So we had to devise a roster system of inviting people which sounded so exclusive. Church should not be about restricting by invitation only but should be, as most church signs and bulletins say – ALL WELCOME.
As we move forward this is going to be one of the biggest challenges that faces the church as we continue to face restrictions on how many we can have at worship. And given the fact that inside worship may not be allowed initially and that we may be required to worship outside and still with restricted numbers, it’s going to be a challenge for us. But we’ll work out a way and whatever we are permitted to do we will do – and we will do it safely.
But this is where we are going to need our church community and your support. During those 3 weeks that we could have 20 inside our church building there were some challenges. Cleaning the church before and after services – signing in – sanitising your hands – having your temperature taken – I know that some felt this was an infringement on rights and to an extent nuisance value. And I agree – I didn’t like it. But I love worship more than I disliked the requirements placed upon us – and so whatever we had to do we did.
And as we move forward there may be these and more in way of restrictions. We may be required to wear masks. We may be urged or even required to not allow singing. We may not be able to use the common cup and need to use individual cups. Again, things we might rightly say are unfair – are against our human rights. And we may say – I won’t attend under these circumstances. I wish there was an alternative – but there won’t be. It’s going to be – you either do these things or you cannot open up for worship.
We might not like or agree with the demands of reopening our worship but I am so sad at what has happened to you that I want to encourage you to look beyond the demands of what is being asked and help us to regain worship. And if we can only have 5 for the initial start up period then we will look at ways of having multiple shorter services each week offering private Holy Communion services.
We could offer 20 minute private communions with a brief break in between – that could allow for 10 an hour -5 times a day – one day at Ringwood and one day at Knox – that’s 100 members we could commune. Is that a lot of work for me – yes it is – but I am prepared to do whatever it takes to have you receive the body and blood of Christ. And I hope you are prepared to look differently at how we gather for worship. It will mean that we ask for help from our worship community to accept the invitation with the requirements that are being placed upon us to open.
As we look at our Gospel reading it is easy to see how we can place our own needs and priorities over an important invitation. A king gave an invitation to a wedding. A King!
Who would knock back an invitation from a King? A royal wedding nonetheless – and yet people find an excuse to not accept the invitation. In fact it was worse than just rejecting the invitation: They made light of the invitation and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. Why would they do that?
It’s easy to be like them and reject the changes we need to make also and criticise those who are thinking of ways that we can gather again. It’s hard to say when and if things will get back to the way things were before the pandemic struck us. And it’s easy to lose heart and focus on the unfair demands being placed on the invite rather than looking at what we are being invited to.
We missed out on our Easter celebrations and it’s looking more and more like or Christmas may not be the large joyous occasion we have had in the past. It is easy, because of the situation that is before us, to allow our dismay to miss the opportunities that we have to worship God in new ways and new opportunities. We may allow our disappointment, our anger, our rejection to reject God’s invitation to worship because it’s not the way WE want it – it’s not the way WE are used to having it. We should not let our disappointment or anger cause us to miss the joy that God brings to our life.
And so St Paul says: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Whether we’re sitting in our pews – in our usual way of worshiping or not, the Lord is near. This is going to challenge us to see worship stripped away from all the things we are used to in worship and bring it back to what is essential – word and sacrament. True we haven’t celebrated the sacrament of Holy Communion for 7 months – but we have been surrounded by the sacrament of our Baptism – as promised by God – I am with you always – as Paul said – the Lord is near.
There is the old saying that necessity is the mother of all inventions.
Maybe this necessity of rethinking – reshaping our worship is that opportunity of looking at what is essential in our worship. We have seen beginnings of how worship has reached out to far more places than the 4 walls of our church buildings through the internet. As church attendances have steadily decreased over the past decade or so, maybe this is how God is going to reshape his church and send out more invitations to hear and receive the Gospel message of salvation. For too long the invitation has been rejected by more and more people.
This is our opportunity to send the Gospel to the ends of the earth which is the last prophecy that Jesus spoke of before his return.
Maybe we’re not as comfortable about some of the changes we need to make to comply with the demands placed on us as we were with the ways we were used to. But it’s not about OUR comfort but about the world’s salvation. And Paul today urges us to look at what is truly important when he says: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about THESE things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Maybe God is inviting us to learn new ways. But what is central is his Word and Sacraments and they won’t change. We will always keep them as central to our worship whether it’s inside our church building or in our carpark or wherever God allows us to gather and worship. If it’s only 5 for a period of time or 10 or 20, Jesus has assured us that where 2 or 3 gather in my name there I am in the midst of them.