“When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.” Joshua 4:21-22
Someone asked me the other day: “Since the church has been closed, what in the world have you been doing?”
Just about everybody who had to figure out how to work remotely during the pandemic has probably been asked a question like this at some point over the last twelve months. Not every job, of course, could be done remotely. It was indeed a blessing to have that option, and when banks, schools, law firms, medical clinics, and so much more closed their doors last March, a lot of us suddenly had to come up with new and different ways to accomplish old and familiar tasks.
The tasks themselves didn’t change just because we were working remotely. The work and ministry of the church continued, even if the building was closed. For ministers, there were still sermons to prepare, church members to support, prospective members to contact, current ministry programs to re-imagine, innovative ministry ideas to implement, contingency plans to make, new skills to learn, staff meetings to lead, colleagues to supervise, committees to assist, Bible studies and Sunday school lessons to teach, routine logistical issues to sort through, relationships with ministry partners to strengthen.
The tasks didn’t change, but suddenly almost every single one of them had to be done over the phone, or via Zoom, or through emails, or outside in someone’s driveway, or at the church gazebo. What once could be resolved with a three-minute, Sunday morning conversation in the hallway now required several emails and at least a phone call or two to get settled. Every week, it seemed, brought new questions that we’d never had to consider before, and new challenges that we’d never had to address before, and new contingencies that we’d never had to plan around before. And all of these things had to be worked out from a distance.
I’m right-handed. Doing ministry in a pandemic was like being forced to write left-handed all the time. The basic task didn’t change, but the degree of difficulty increased exponentially. I imagine that all of us who’ve had to figure out how to work remotely—regardless of what our respective vocations may be—have been through a similar experience. We’ve all spent the last year writing with our left hands, so to speak—and, God willing, we’ll never have to do so again. God willing, my sojourn as a pandemic pastor is coming to an end.
But before it does, though, it’s important to give thanks for the ways in which God has been faithful to us as we made our way from last March to right now. I suspect that I’m not alone in feeling grateful. We are grateful that more vaccines are available to more people. We are grateful that more of us are returning to familiar rhythms of work. We are grateful to be worshiping together in our Sanctuary again. We are grateful that, from all indications, we will soon be moving forward together again. Before we do, let’s not forget that we’re here because God brought us here.
In the Old Testament book of Joshua, the Israelites finally arrive at the edge of the Promised Land after traveling through the wilderness for years. The only obstacle between them and their destination is the River Jordan. God parts the river so they can cross over, and as they do, they take twelve stones from the riverbed—stones that would ordinarily be covered with water but, for this one brief moment, are now exposed. When they get to the other side of the river, the Israelites stack these stones, one on top of the other, as a testimony to God’s power and mercy. For generations to come, says Joshua, whenever anyone asks what these stones signify, we shall tell them about what God did to bring us to where we are.
This last year was not easy for any of us. There is much we would like to forget and very little that we would like to repeat. But before we move forward together again, let’s remember all the grace behind us that allowed us to do, and be, and learn, and endure, and adapt, and hope more than we probably ever believed we could.
So, what stones will you use to remind you of God’s grace over the last twelve months? When our days of writing left-handed (or right-handed, if you’re a lefty) are over, how will you remember to thank God for being faithful? Maybe you can write a prayer of gratitude and use it as a bookmark in your Bible. Maybe you can make a list of all the blessings that you’ve received since last March. Maybe you can create a work of art to hang on your wall. Maybe you can plant a tree as a sign of hope. Maybe you can, literally, find some actual stones and stack them in your backyard. The important thing is to find meaningful ways to remind ourselves, in ages to come, of what God did for us in a difficult year.
Let’s not be in such a hurry to move on that we forget to be grateful.
May the peace of Christ be with you!