Spiritual Reflections

Since we cannot assemble weekly in person for a full range of experiences of Christian community, I am endeavoring in the first weeks of my pastorate at Resurrection Church to offer weekly spiritual reflections in addition to my Sunday sermon videos. I see these mid-week written reflections as an exercise of my teaching ministry as a pastor, especially during this time of global pandemic and necessary sheltering at home and social distancing. Resurrection Church has a rich tradition of substantive adult Christian Education. These weekly reflections seek to fill, in some measure, the void created by the absence of our Sunday morning adult educational experiences. I long for the return of those Sunday morning offerings in person which feature the substantial gifts of our own members, but for now, I give you what I can in these weekly reflections. These messages also serve to nurture a sense of our Christian community during this time when we are apart.

May God in Christ bless your engagement with these pastoral offerings in the power of the Holy Spirit for your ongoing Christian formation for your journey of faith for such a time as this.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Week of the Sixth Sunday of Easter 2020: “What’s Going on at Church?”

Dear Friends in Christ:

I am delighted to be writing this piece in my home office at the parsonage here in Arlington. At long last, I am in residence among you, even if we cannot generally enjoy interactions in person. Despite these most unusual circumstances, I am doing now what I always do in a new call, namely, getting a sense of what is going on in ministry in this place. Because of the pandemic, and in a manner similar to the coronavirus, which is itself hidden to the naked eye, a lot of ministry at Resurrection right now is not particularly visible to everyone. But things are happening – perhaps in truncated form – and many of the essentials of Christian life together are being undertaken even apart from our ability to assemble on Sundays and at other times. Here is a snapshot of what I have witnessed in just the few days since I arrived in Arlington.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Week of the Fifth Sunday of Easter 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

As a seminary professor and then as a Bishop’s Assistant, I spent a heck of a lot of time in front of computer screens for the past 18 years – as is the experience also of so many of you. This was a lot of time away from direct contact with people. One of the attractions of a return to a congregational pastorate has been the promise of more people time, face-to-face, in real life. Obviously, such people time is currently not an option.

I knew that my return to ministry as a pastor of a congregation would involve more screen time than was the case when I left the parish back in 2001. As it turns out, because of the pandemic, virtually all of my new ministry efforts are mediated by some form of technology. No doubt many of you also have experienced a huge increase in the amount of time you spend interacting with people via technology. Our technologies can be great servants of our varied activities, but perhaps things seem quite out of balance right now, when it may appear that we are servants of our technologies and not the other way around.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Week of the Fourth Sunday of Easter 2020: “Thoughts on Home Worship”

Notice of Home Worship on Ascension Day:

Resources for Home Worship will be available for the Festival of the Ascension of our Lord on Thursday, May 21. Join us at 7:30 pm that day to mark this important festival. The Home Worship order of service will be complemented as usual by a sermon and musical accompaniment.

Dear Friends in Christ:

We’ve been at this for seven weeks now, and it’s certainly going to continue for longer than we want: worshiping at home, unable to engage in perhaps the most fundamental Christian practice, assembling in person at church for worship on the Lord’s Day.

In the earliest days of Christianity under persecution, the church was driven underground – but the faithful still assembled in house churches. Our home worship is not driven by persecution. Rather, it is a loving act of hospitality to our neighbors to promote the greatest possible well-being for the greatest number in the human family – to attempt to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic, as it is said.

How do we make the most of this unwelcome suspension of our principle Christian act of being gathered by the Holy Spirit as a congregation on Sundays? In response to this crisis and opportunity, leaders at Resurrection Church have crafted resources for Home Worship, which, if you did not know it, have gotten national and international attention, and are distributed widely by our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D
Week of the Third Sunday of Easter 2020: “Fasting from the Feast”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Lenten fasting is supposed to be over. We are marking time now in Eastertide, the season of feasting. “This is the feast of victory for our God,” we love to sing. Except that we aren’t feasting. Because of the pandemic’s necessary social distancing, we cannot gather to share the principal feast of the resurrection, the Holy Eucharist. We persist in fasting from this feast.

But that’s not all. There are so many ways in which we continue to fast:

  • We are fasting from gathering as church, and with friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers.
  • We fast from what had been our usual daily routines, and too many from their very livelihoods.
  • Many are fasting from their weekday commutes.
  • We are on a fast when it comes to consumer spending on non-essentials.
  • We are fasting from sports and other forms of entertainment that involve crowds—going to the movies, to the theater, to the symphony, to the gym, to restaurants, and more.
  • This listing of the features of our fasting could go on and on. You can create your own list, and I encourage you to do so. It’s as if the entire human family throughout the world is on a fast in order to maintain the kinds of circumstances in which we can seek to limit the extent of infections from the coronavirus.

Lutherans believe that any spiritual exercise is to be undertaken voluntarily in the freedom of the gospel. Except that our global fasting is not actually free, especially in jurisdictions which mandate social distancing by law. Nor is the current abstinence motivated by faith, but by concern for public health. Many are beginning to chafe under these restrictions on life and livelihoods – note the protests that are happening in our nation and in other countries.

I must confess that I’ve never been one to do much fasting in a traditional sense. Honestly, I cannot remember ever having given up anything for Lent. Rather, I generally take on more devotional exercises during Lent. Fasting has not been on that list. Of course, I’ve engaged in medical fasts before blood tests and surgical procedures, but that’s very different from spiritual fasts in the service of the life of faith.

Why do people of faith fast? There are several reasons, but for our purposes here, one of the main goals of a fast is to break a particular routine and its claims on us for the sake of seeing the bigger picture. The absence of something dear to us, from which we fast, opens up the circumstantial and mental horizons to see the “forest for the trees,” as it were, to gain a new or renewed vantage point on our habits and how they shape and form our lives. Awareness is heightened in the absence of that which we have given up.

In popular spiritual practice, fasting often involves foods—giving up chocolate for Lent is a common example. But there are any number of different kinds of fasts. Going on a retreat is a fast from our usual daily routines. Insofar as monastic retreating has been and is a major feature of my spiritual life, perhaps I am more into fasting than I realize.

Fasting can be a useful way for us now to try to make sense of the various prohibitions and kinds of abstinence we are currently enduring in trying to limit the spread of the coronavirus. So, the question for us under the authority of the gospel is this: how do we make the most of this ongoing season of fasting, individually and communally, for the sake of our well-being and that of the whole world?

In short, we can claim this prolonged, comprehensive time of fasting as an opportunity to take stock of what had been our lives and routines, and to consider what “normal life” on the other side of the pandemic might look like, again in our individual lives, and in the life of our nation, and indeed for the existence of our whole species. That is, let the theme of fasting frame how you try to find meaning during this pandemic, in the service of discerning what feasting might look like after the fasting is over.

Maybe we will not be drawn to feast as extravagantly as we did in the past. Maybe we’ll choose to arrange our routines and our whole society very differently in our future compared with the time before Covid-19.

I am fascinated by and drawn to any number of columnists in the New York Times and the Washington Post and other publications who are asking in their writing these big picture kinds of questions. I encourage such reading to be part of your routine during these days of unwanted fasting as you try to figure out what on earth is going on.

If we have the circumstances which permit reflection – again, not everyone has such privilege right now – may we not squander this opportunity to discern through the guidance of the Holy Spirit a vision for the future, again in both our individual and communal lives, that more resonantly embodies the values of God’s justice and God’s commonwealth for all.

With prayerful best wishes in Christ Jesus, that we make the most of this time,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Week of the Second Sunday of Easter 2020 + “Half Empty? Half Full?”

You have your own unique experience of the pandemic. That is to say, there is no one-size-fits-all, universal story to tell. As a New Yorker for eighteen years, that was also my experience of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and of the city’s sets of experience of Superstorm Sandy. While each occasion affected New Yorkers profoundly, it’s a huge city, and wide swaths of the population suffered more or less, depending on proximity to the calamities. As I hear now from colleagues and friends in New York City, this wide range of experience is also true of the pandemic. For those in the most directly affected communities, the reality is apocalyptic, horrific. For the majority of the city’s population, though, greatly disrupted life goes on, albeit in surreal ways.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was to have been at a church meeting just a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center. At the last minute, I opted not to attend, not in any way knowing what would soon befall the city and world. Had I traveled to lower Manhattan that morning, I would have been one of those dust covered survivors in the streets when the second tower collapsed. Likewise, with Superstorm Sandy, I lived in a part of Manhattan which escaped the devastating ravages of the winds and flooding. Just a few blocks away, though, it was an entirely different story and thus experience.

In short, I was privileged, lucky. This is proving to be true now at this point with the pandemic. I am privileged through your generosity, for example, to serve in a profession which allows for telecommuting – though I dearly long to be with you all in person! Yet, at the same time, this pandemic deeply affects me, resulting in my own particular experiences of suffering. Each one of you is suffering the pandemic in your own ways, too. You have your own stories to tell.