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.

Week of the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

I’ve always loved synod assemblies, even since the years of my youth. Early in my high school days, I attended the convention of the Illinois Synod of the Lutheran Church in America as part of the youth convo. Church geek that I’ve always been, I managed somehow to sneak out of the youth activities to attend forums for adult delegates on the introduction of what would become the Lutheran Book of Worship. I was thrilled, and hooked. Thus, I am one of those pastors, sometimes a rarity, who looks forward to and thoroughly enjoys the synodal assemblies of the wider church.

The Metropolitan Washington DC Synod held its 2021 assembly on Friday evening and all-day Saturday, June 4-5 – and all of this via Zoom due to the ongoing effects of pandemic restrictions! It took a great deal of effort on the part of assembly planners to pull this off. We had our own annual congregational meeting at RELC via Zoom, which involved excellent planning initiative of our own members. Pulling off a whole synod assembly via a virtual format was exponentially a much greater task.

Our Metro DC Synod did all the usual assembly things. We passed a number of resolutions, undertook a variety of elections, passed a new budget/mission spending plan, hosted keynote presentations, sponsored small group break-out sessions, shared in worship – all via Zoom. Here is a link to Assembly highlights should you wish to see the specifics in greater detail.

My sense is that we are in pastorally caring, prophetically challenging, and administratively competent hands under the leadership of Bishop Leila Ortiz and staff. On a personal note, at my first meeting of the Candidacy Committee when I was new to the bishop’s staff of Metro New York Synod, we approved Leila Ortiz for ordination. It is gratifying to see that someone who was formed under the care of Metro NY Synod has blossomed so fully and so quickly in leadership for our church.

Moreover, I am pleased with and impressed by the extent of cultural and racial diversity among those elected to various offices and positions at this assembly.

While I generally support the social issues for which our synod advocates, I long to see throughout all expressions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America a more deeply rooted and richly textured biblical and theological foundation laid to articulate why we advocate for the social issues that we do because we are a church, and not just another social service or non-governmental organization. There is so much wisdom to draw from, discover, and re-discover in our own Lutheran theological traditions which could make the case solidly for our prophetic advocacy and witness to the world for such a time as this. Not rising to this occasion is a missed opportunity in my estimation.

But what I missed most in this synod assembly via Zoom was in fact being church and doing church together in person, in the flesh. In the polity of the ELCA, a synod in assembly is an expression of the church, as is each of our congregations when gathered around Christ in word and sacrament, as is the churchwide organization in assembly. Let’s not overlook the fact that we are also in our wider church contexts Christ’s body as we are convened around and rooted in the means of grace in the assembly of God’s people brought together in the power of the Holy Spirit. The incarnate dimensions of folk assembled in person was for me a painful absence in doing synod assembly via Zoom. A crucial feature of being church together in assembly are the conversations and collegial interactions that occur in the hallways and over communal meals and drinks at the hotel bar – all potential eruptions of mutual conversation and consolation among siblings in Christ, a form of the gospel according to Luther. Virtually all of this was missing in this year’s Zoom assembly. The Zoom format also radically minimized the give and take of debate and deliberation that would also naturally occur in the context of in-person assemblies. Such mutual give and take is a crucial feature of what it means to be a synod, on the road together for Christ’s sake and our mission in and for the world.

It is an enormously expensive undertaking for synods and the churchwide organization to rent space in hotels, provide overnight accommodations along with meals and sundry other expenses. Registration and other fees don’t cover all the costs. I can see that meeting via Zoom would be a tempting alternative as a cost saving measure in lean times of our churchly life together. But for me it would be a sad day indeed when the wider church would opt to not meet in assembly in person. It is, in my opinion, worth the cost to be and to do the church together in person.

Thus, some reflections on this year’s Metro DC Synod Assembly.

As a final word, I am pleased at the extent to which people from Resurrection Church were represented at our assembly. They include our lay voting members, Maggie Mount, Leslie Nolen, and Tom Van Poole, and me as your pastor, along with Cindy Reese as a Synod Council member, Mitzi Budde as a rostered deacon, and Amy Feira as a pastor rostered in our synod.

May God in Christ ever lead us in ways faithful as a church together in the power of the Holy Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

Our return to celebrating Holy Communion on the day of Pentecost was a momentous occasion on our slow road to the resumption of usual churchly activities as the pandemic continues, we pray, to wane. Another momentous occasion will be our return this coming Sunday, Pentecost 5 on July 4th, to worshiping indoors.

Why is returning to our church building such a big deal? After all, we have been assembling in person in Jesus’ name by the power of the Holy Spirit as church outdoors for several months now. As a Sunday School song of my youth puts it: “The church is not a building; the church is not a steeple; the church is not a resting place; the church is a people.” Indeed, for Lutherans, church is an event, a verb, as the Holy Spirit gathers God’s people in assembly, in community, around faithful preaching of the gospel, and administration of the sacraments according to the gospel (cf. Article 7 of the Augsburg Confession).

Thus, church happened, at least in part, during The Three Days of Holy Week as we were assembled outdoors amidst our congregation’s Memorial Garden. And church has been happening on the parsonage side of the church building in our serendipitously well-equipped outdoor nave. Church even occurred live but virtually and partially when we gathered via Zoom for various occasions of Evening Prayer during Advent, Lent, and other festivals. So again, what is the significance of returning to worship indoors in our church building when God’s people can be assembled as church almost anywhere?

Quite importantly, buildings are extensions of human embodiment. The physical dwellings that become our homes gain significance when our own personal belongings furnish and adorn our dwelling places. I have shared with you previously how delightful it has been for me to make your house, the parsonage, my home with my personal adornments. And with our return to the church building, I can also begin to invite you into my home, your house, for social and spiritual occasions!

Likewise, a congregation’s building becomes an extension of our particular incarnate embodiment as a community of God’s people in this place, at this time. You bring with you to our church building memories of significant occasions in the life of your families – baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, ordinations, and more. It is common for congregation members to be devoted to beloved church buildings not necessarily because of the artistic significance of the architecture, but because of memorable, often sacramental, happenings, events.

Of course, devotion to church buildings can succumb to idolatrous dynamics, too. There is a saying among pastors that “the building always wins.” The way our naves, our sanctuaries, are furnished and configured can limit if not dictate the kinds of assemblies that can occur therein. Moreover, buildings are quite demanding of time, attention, energy, and financial resources. Just ask members of our Property Committee about that!

Thus, we are beckoned as we are on the brink of returning to our beloved church building to remember what ends our building serves. Our building is a vessel of servanthood; it is not an end in itself. In short, again and essentially, our building serves as a place of assembly of God’s people in the Spirit around the means of grace. As we mark a new beginning in our life together, let us not miss the opportunity to appreciate anew and afresh what end our building serves.

In this place, in our church building, are the fuller, richer, more enduring, incarnate symbols of what we are gathered around. In this place, in particular, is a large baptismal font, the place of being washed in the Trinitarian name of God, bathed in water, word, and Spirit to become children of God. In this place is the substantial table around which Christ gathers us in the Spirit for the meal of his corporeal presence. This place, our place of assembly, is furnished in a way that gives focal attention to where God’s word is read and proclaimed. In this place are musical instruments – pipe organ, piano, harpsicord, handbells, and perhaps more – which serve our singing songs of praise, the assembly’s share in the proclamation of the gospel. In this place is comfortable seating for God’s people making it possible more easily to attend to the central things of our faith without the various distractions we encountered outdoors.

Yes, we’ve had our sacred symbols outdoors – a glass bowl for baptism, an ordinary patio table that served as a sacramental table, a fence that has served as an altar rail, a brick patio as choir loft, a grassy yard surrounding our community garden as nave – but all of this has been temporary and less capable of showing forth the fullness of the symbols of the means of grace. What we have indoors, to reiterate, are the more enduring expressions of the central things around which we are assembled. But kindly remember: Our building serves these things, and not the other way around. The tail does not wag the dog.

Moreover, our building makes possible other features of our missional life together. Leading from the places of the bath, and of the word’s proclamation, and the meal are the other gathering places – classrooms for Christian education and formation, rooms for administrative meetings, a lovely hall for socializing, for communal meals as extensions of the Eucharist, offices for our staff members where two or three gather in Jesus’ name for holy conversation, rooms where community groups meet, and more, all flowing forth from and related to the more central things.

Thus, with our return to the use of our church building after some sixteen months of it being virtually unused, we reclaim the greater fullness of our life together, a three-dimensional expression of our incarnate life in person, in community, and not just a two-dimensional, virtual, partial expression of our churchly life.

To mark the occasion of our return indoors, several members of our congregation have been lovingly devoting much time and energy to cleaning and sprucing up our church building’s interior in preparation for our return. Others have gathered to talk and walk through the logistics of the movements of our assembly, keeping in mind the continued need for appropriate physical distancing. Thousand thanks to these persons whose devotion to our life together is evident in their volunteer hours.

In conclusion, I am quite curious to see what our three-dimensional life together will be like. Join me, join us, in this renewed adventure of return!

With thanks to God in Christ for this opportunity,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Remembering the Emanuel Nine

The Metro D.C. Synod Racial Equity Team invites you to pause on Thursday night, June 17, 2021 at 7:00 PM as we commemorate the 6th anniversary of the massacre of the Emanuel 9, with a communal Bible study via Zoom. Mindful of the deep presence of God at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina, we will take the scripture that was part of the bible study in 2015, that night when Dylan Roof was welcomed as a stranger. Rooted in the Word and in small groups, we will ask what was God saying then and what is God saying now.

Dear Friends in Christ:

I am delighted, encouraged, and relieved to report that our Congregation Council has approved our return to worshiping indoors beginning on Sunday, July 4, 2021, almost sixteen months since the beginning of the pandemic’s lockdown. Thanks be to God.

Several factors contributed to our making this decision, including: recently revised and relaxed CDC guidelines concerning vaccinated and unvaccinated persons, the CDC’s official word that the risk of contracting the coronavirus is minimal with surface contacts, the extent of vaccinations among RELC members and persons in our wider communities, the fact that many neighboring churches are now also returning to indoor worship.

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost on July 4th, of course, occurs on a holiday weekend. Our leaders are considering this a kind of “soft” opening so that we can begin to get used to a somewhat altered routine indoors. We will have a more celebratory and perhaps poignant way of marking our return to indoor Christian assembly on a Sunday later in July when we will observe a “Rite for Re-Gathering” developed for use in congregations throughout our wider church.

Here is what you can expect upon our return to worshiping indoors. There will be one liturgy each Sunday beginning at 9:30 am. It will be very much like that which we are currently using outdoors – the full set of readings, communal hymn-singing, intercessory prayer, sharing the Peace of Christ in an appropriately safe way, Holy Communion in both kinds, using our usual baked bread dropped into uplifted palms, and wine offered from a pouring chalice into containers that you will continue to bring from home.

We still ask that you wear masks out of loving concern for and solidarity with younger children who are not yet permitted to be vaccinated and others who, for whatever reasons, have not been able to be vaccinated. Moreover, we will continue to practice physical distancing indoors with seating available in designated pews. Thus, we continue to err on the side of caution as has been our practice throughout the pandemic.

Some congregations are asking that worshipers pre-register to attend worship, observing strict maximum attendance numbers, as well as cordoning off sections of the nave for vaccinated persons in one area and the unvaccinated in another – and more such overly-cautious, in my opinion, measures. Such strictures, it seems to me, add dimensions of stress and anxiety to public worship, which otherwise is best offered in a more relaxed spirit. Moreover, some of the measures taken by other congregations are perhaps antithetical to the ideal of fully inclusive, non-exclusionary worship. Thus, Resurrection Church will proceed in a spirit of trust that worshipers will do the loving and responsible things of wearing their masks and being mindful of appropriately safe distance between people. I have full confidence, based on my experiences of our worship outdoors, that things will proceed among us safely and naturally. Our team of ushers and other worship leaders will also think through and practice our routines of movement indoors in advance of our July re-gathering. Our practice will undoubtedly evolve in nuanced ways as the coming weeks unfold.

It is also important to note that beginning on July 4th, the production of our weekly watch-through home worship video along with the home worship bulletins will be discontinued. In the meantime, as an alternative, we will begin the practice of producing video recordings of our worship indoors, making these available on YouTube and via Constant Contact messages for those still unable to join us for worship indoors and in person. This effort may also evolve to the practice of live-streaming our worship services. Discipline will be undertaken to limit video images only to those leading public worship in the chancel out of respect for the security and privacy of worshipers who may not want to appear on video. In this meantime, we will discern the appropriate and faithful nature of what our congregation’s digital life might be in the future.

The Council’s decision to return to worshiping indoors also paves the way for other groups to begin using our church building again – for committee meetings, occasions for socializing, group events of local community organizations, and more. These groups will need to decide for themselves how and when they wish to proceed to a return to indoor activities in our church building. It may also be that some of our congregation’s meetings and events will be hybrid in nature with some participants being present in person in the church and others Zooming in from remote locations. Time will tell what our “new normal” will be going forward.

The Council’s decision to return indoors also begins a new phase of our life together as a congregation. Who and how many will return to our fold in person with something resembling a more normal routine? How much activity and of what sort will our reconstituted congregation be willing and able to undertake? What, in fact, will be our capacities and energies for mission and outreach to our wider communities? What resources, financial and otherwise, will be available to us moving forward together? These are all crucial questions which don’t yet have answers. But again, time will tell as God in Christ leads us faithfully into an unknown future together in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’ name, and thus, with hopeful anticipation,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

I’m drawn again to the theme of the garden. The paradise of Eden from which our forebears were expelled in response to disobedience. Gethsemane, the garden of which was watered by Jesus’ tears and bloody sweat. Golgotha, which became the garden where the cross, the tree of life, was firmly planted to flourish for our salvation. Our Memorial Garden, which contains the earthen remains of so many of our loved ones, and which was transformed this year into a stage for the liturgical drama of the Three Days of Holy Week into Easter. And then also our more ordinary garden places – my fledgling plot for flowers at the parsonage, your own places of garden inside and outside of your homes and apartments. And finally, our garden planet Earth.

But my mind is most focused currently on our “Plot Against Hunger.” A year ago, I wrote about our congregation’s community garden, the produce of which is given to feed in wholesome, healthy ways those in need in our community. I turned the theme of gardening into a metaphor for our life together as a congregation during the pandemic period of dormancy or fallowness.

Right now, my imagination is riveted on the “Plot Against Hunger” as a centerpiece and focal point of our gathering place as a reconstituted worshiping assembly. It’s our nave outdoors, as I have shared repeatedly. In this place the seeds of God’s word are planted among and within us via a diversity of scriptural readings. In this place, we are fed with the harvest of fields of wheat and the fruit of the vineyard in our sacred, sacramental meal of Christ’s corporeal, real presence. In this place, the Spirit’s dew descends upon us as we are watered with baptismal remembrance and thanksgiving, as we sing our songs, when we uphold the world in petitions of prayer, and as we extend gestures of Christ’s Peace to each other.

But this place, our community garden which plots against a cruel world’s efforts to hoard garden blessings, depriving so many of just nourishment, this place is also a launching pad back into the world from which we were gathered. It’s an excellent place to hear the words of dismissal, “Go in peace, serve the Lord!” We serve, in part, by feeding those in need. Healthy produce is a central feature of our congregation’s social ministry.

Such sacred serving is undertaken by the loving, caring hands of persons who regularly make an appearance throughout the week to prepare the soil, to plant seeds and seedlings, to weed, to water, to erect protective barriers to keep away hungry rabbits in search of a salad buffet. There is clearly an infrastructure of dedicated volunteers who are quietly organized behind the scenes. They nurture the system of roots hidden below the ground which at harvest time also networks with the system of nonprofit organizations in the Arlington area with whom we collaborate to make certain that the fruit of our garden gets into the right hands and hungry mouths of those who need it most. Thanks be to God for the many who serve the Lord via their tender, loving care for our “Plot Against Hunger.”

But here’s the gospel thing. Like Paul and Apollos, we plant, we water, but God gives the growth (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9). Mostly, at least to the naked eye, our community garden just sits there without much human activity. Again, our volunteers appear only occasionally, though regularly. The season of growth unfolds in its own time, over the course of late spring, summer, and early autumn weeks and months. It’s unhurried, unrushed. This process does not succumb to the anxieties and urgencies of our days. Storms may rage about us. But the garden is still there, even if it be battered by the elements. And if it would become victim of drought or infestation (thankfully, the cicadas are comparatively harmless…), there are other gardens elsewhere to help fill the void.

It strikes me that our “Plot Against Hunger” is a lovely example and incarnation, therefore, of the link between contemplation and social action. In the case of the garden, the unhurried and unharried quality of the growing season will likely result in hundreds of pounds of healthy food that will benefit the hungry and food insecure. This being leads to doing, bearing fruit, the good work of feeding those in need. It is contemplative activity, a doing rooted in being that is ultimately grounded in God’s sovereignly creative initiative.

And this quiet unfolding that leads to fruit-bearing is a call to us as a church to root our activist ministry and mission in the contemplative grounding of our intentional, unhurried engagement with the means of grace in our communal spirituality, our being and our doing rooted in preaching, baptism, eucharist, confession and forgiveness, and the mutual conversation and consolation of siblings in Christ in the family of God – all of this is the soil in which we grow and flourish as persons of Christian faith, that we may freely give ourselves away for the sake of the world.

Thus, by God’s grace, mercy, and action, our garden place of contemplation of Christ in word and sacrament also bids us to slow down, breathe deeply, listen for God’s voice, standing firm in the ground of our faith, all the while trusting that God in Christ does in fact give the growth in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Think on these things the next time we are gathered for the fullness, the feast of our Sunday worship. In fact, we will have occasion intentionally to turn our hearts and minds and our bodies to our “Plot Against Hunger” this coming Sunday, June 13th when our liturgy’s sending will include a rite of blessing for this garden, for those who tend it, and for the people who will benefit from its fruits. Join us outdoors this Sunday at 9:30.

In Jesus’ name, and for Christ’s sake,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of Holy Trinity Sunday

Dear Christian Friends:

For those of us privileged to live in a region where a significant percentage of the population is vaccinated against Covid-19, experts are suggesting that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the pandemic. In fact, the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia issued Executive Order 79, effective May 28, which lifted state-mandated social distancing and capacity restrictions in accordance with recent CDC guidelines for vaccinated and unvaccinated persons.

Given these realities, our congregation’s Reopening Planning Group has been in conversation to make recommendations to our Congregation Council for their decision about returning to worship and other church activities indoors.

The long and the short of it is that in church and in the wider community, a return to a “new normal” beckons. After a year and more of physical distancing, social isolation, and truncated routines, what will this be like? What will we do and how soon? To what activities will we return? What discretionary things will we decide to no longer include in our routines?

Good questions, these. In the early weeks of the pandemic, I recall writing in these Midweek Messages about the opportunity in what has been our set of intersecting crises of the past year – racial injustice, the economy, the pandemic – to discern what is most important in our lives, and in our life together at church. A new normal should not necessarily be like our old normal if we truly claim the opportunities to assess what’s most important in our lives individually and communally.

And the transition to whatever will be is likely to be gradual – not like the on or off of switching on a light. A personal case in point: while I am fully vaccinated and have been for some time, I still wear two masks, not just one, to go to the grocery store – a matter of mere habit at this point. Also, one of my very favorite things to do in life is to dine at interesting restaurants, of which the DC area has an abundance. That said, I have at this point yet to venture much of anything except occasional take-out from a few trusted restaurants.

After fourteen months, we have gotten used to new routines. Some of the current routines are attractive. Many, though not all, for example, speak of a preference for working from home. Who needs to sit in traffic when you can spend more time with your family in comfortable surroundings? Other aspects of our current reality we would like to jettison sooner rather than later, such as the severe social isolation for many of us.

To state it again, it’s likely that whatever a new normal will be, we are not likely to go back exactly to things as they were. We’ve been having church administrative meetings via Zoom during the year and more of the pandemic. How many future, post-pandemic committee meetings will remain on Zoom? Or in hybrid formats, where some are present in person in the church, while others participate via Zoom? Likewise, perhaps for Bible Studies in our congregation. Numbers of participants in our Bible Studies via Zoom have been higher on that remote format than was the case when people met in person – at least according to the memory of some long-time members of our congregation. It may be that Bible Studies going forward will also be a hybrid format that will include a Zoom option.

All of this is to say that I hope and pray that in future weeks and months we fully and robustly claim the opportunity carefully to discern the particular ways in which we may be called to organize our life together in our congregation, informed by our emerging, shared vision statements to guide planning for our mission and ministry. What congregation activities, initiatives and ministries do we sense a call to reclaim with passion and appreciation? Which such initiatives and traditions might we set aside or lay to rest? What new things might we embrace? These are crucially important questions for our life together in this particular season. As your Pastor, I pledge to ground our coming, discerning conversations and decision-making processes in an understanding of what it truly and faithfully means for us to be and to do church, that assembly of God’s people gathered in the flesh by the Holy Spirit close to communal engagements with the means of grace. May God in Christ lead us in confidently faithful ways in discernment and decision-making in the power of the Holy Spirit.

With such prayer in Jesus’ name and for the sake of the ministry and mission which we share,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Day of Pentecost

Dear Christian Friends:

On the ancient day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit dramatically appeared, Acts reports that the apostles “were all together in one place.” Centuries later, at long last on the Day of Pentecost in 2021, a significant number of the members of Resurrection Lutheran Church were all together in one place in our outdoor worship space to receive the gift once again of the fullness of our worship life together – all of the lectionary readings, the communal singing of hymns, prayers of intercession for the world, the Peace of Christ, the Eucharist, and on Saturday evening at the Vigil of Pentecost, the sacrament of baptism when Axel Norwood Hedberg was made a child of God by water, word, and Spirit. Thanks be to God.

I have engaged the Acts account of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost innumerable times in my life as a preacher and student of Christian spirituality. And the report that they “were all together in one place” is a phrase that is easily glossed over and taken for granted. Not this year when we’ve been scattered from place to place, individually and in our familial pods, but not together in the fullness of Christian practice in person, in one place. For me as pastor, and I trust for you as members of our congregation who were present, it was an immensely moving time to be back together to engage again what we routinely do as church.

And what a place it is, our outdoor space for liturgy! When the features that comprise the church and parsonage yards were planned and constructed, no one envisioned this area as a place for liturgical worship. But the parsonage deck as chancel, and new brick patio as choir loft, and fence as altar rail, and the church yard as nave, the place of assembly – all of this configured to work well for the flow of the service, as we were gathered by the Spirit, to hear and engage the word proclaimed, to share in the holy supper, and to be sent back into the world in loving Christian service.

Then there were the particular, curious coincidences of our worshipful day outdoors. On that first Christian Pentecost, the Spirit made “a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” For us, on Pentecost 2021, it was the fascinating cacophony of the once-every-seventeen-years cicadas. And also, a lovely breeze, indicative of the Spirit as wind, as breath, was moving among us. It was fun for me to watch you as members of the worshiping assembly situate yourselves in the shady areas of the lawn as the sun cast its hot rays on our place of worship, calling to mind the brilliant, divine light of Christ that can at times seem dazzlingly overwhelming. Our gathering hymn was “Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song” which we sang in the great outdoors where spring birds were making their vigorous song earlier in the morning as I was readying the area for worship. The concluding doxology of the prayer of thanksgiving at the table offered these words: “With your holy ones of all times and places, with the earth and all its creatures, with sun and moon and stars, we praise you, O God, blessed and holy Trinity, now and forever. Amen.” How lovely it was to thank God outdoors in the more direct, palpable company of, if not to say, communion with the whole earth and its creatures and sun and moon and stars.

Speaking personally as your pastor, it was deeply meaningful for me to move about in your midst, sprinkling the water for baptismal remembrance and thanksgiving which marked the beginning of our worship – which connected me with the memory of standing at the baptismal font in the nave of our church to preside at the rite of confession and forgiveness on March 1, 2020, the day when you voted to call me as pastor. Who knew it would take a year and more to return to that ordinary, extraordinary Christian practice of gathering in close proximity to baptismal themes and realities? And also, to move among you to share the Peace of Christ with bows and waves in place of handshakes was another highlight moment. Most significantly perhaps was administering to you the bread of Communion, as my relationships with you deepen even during this time of pandemic social deprivation. For our interactions at last to be grounded in the sacramental administration of Christ’s bodily real presence was its own profound homecoming. There were points during the liturgy which were marked by the nearness of tears – of joy, of relief, of reconnection to our deepest identity as Christians, and for me as a pastor in Christ’s church whose identity is most profoundly rooted in the fullness of word and sacrament. Even after a year and more of fasting from central things, the return to these holy realities felt completely natural.

I hope and pray that my reflections on our time of return to feasting on the fullness of holy things inspires your own musings on our time together – if indeed you were present in person last Sunday. For those who for whatever reasons were not able to join us, I pray that this message will inspire longing for your own return to the worshiping assembly when your circumstances and station in life permit it.

Thanks be to God in Christ in the power of the Spirit for the Day of Pentecost 2021!

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Congregational Conversation for Input: Vision Statements for Mission

At the annual congregational meeting in January, Pastor Linman presented his proposed statements of vision to guide ministry and mission at Resurrection Lutheran Church. Subsequently, the Congregation Council at its annual retreat engaged the vision statements and suggested editorial revisions such that the statements begin to articulate a shared vision for mission and ministry. Now the membership of the congregation beyond its elected leaders is invited to offer their input into these statements to nurture a still wider embrace of shared vision. Toward that end, members are invited to another occasion for conversation about these vision statements. This will take place via Zoom on Wednesday, May 19 at 7:00 pm. The Zoom meeting link will be distributed via Constant Contact. If you are not receiving our Constant Contact mailings, then please contact the church office.

A copy of the current version of the vision statement is available below:

pdfShared Visions for Strategic Ministry and Mission (March 2021)

Returning to Holy Communion on the Day of Pentecost – Some Reflections

Dear Christian Friends:

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Last week, I offered a detailed narrative account of what you can expect, logistically speaking, when we return to the celebration of Holy Communion this week, outdoors, on the Day of Pentecost. Today, in anticipation of this celebratory return, I am drawn to offer reflections of a more biblical, theological, and spiritual nature and quality.

I believe that it is significant and fitting that our celebration of the Eucharist will resume on the Day of Pentecost. Pentecost, of course, is its own festival which marks the coming of the Holy Spirit recorded in Acts 2. But liturgically, Pentecost also serves as a culmination of the fifty days of Easter which feature engagement with biblical narratives that recount appearances of Jesus after the resurrection.

Evening Prayer via Zoom on Ascension of Our Lord, Thursday, May 13

Please join us at 6:30 pm this coming Thursday, May 13 via Zoom for Evening Prayer on Ascension of Our Lord. The Zoom meeting information will be distributed via Constant Contact. If you do not receive our Constant Contact mailings, please contact the Church OFfice.

pdfEvening Prayer, Ascension of Our Lord, May 13, 2021

“Holy Communion Outdoors – What You Can Expect”

Dear Christian Friends:

Throughout Eastertide, we continue to proclaim that Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

And now we are also approaching the Day of Pentecost, Sunday, May 23, at which time and outdoors we will also resume the celebration of Holy Communion. Thanks be to God! This is an outcome for which so many have longed for many long months. The last time I presided at a liturgy of Holy Communion was March 1, 2020, the Sunday you voted to call me as pastor. Loving concern for those most vulnerable to the coronavirus motivated our fast from central things during the pandemic, not least of which has been the Eucharist.

However, given the extent of vaccinations in our region, the decreasing numbers of cases, serious illnesses and deaths in our area, along with official word from the CDC that there is a very low risk of infection from contact with surfaces, leaders at Resurrection Church among the Worship and Music Committee, the Reopening Planning Group, and the Congregation Council have determined that it is safe to return to the Eucharist, albeit outdoors.

Several members have enquired of me what to expect in terms of the particulars of celebrating Holy Communion outdoors in ways that are appropriate, safe, and faithful to Christian tradition.

First off, we will still need to wear our masks – even those fully vaccinated. Likewise, we will continue to observe physical distancing. Hard copy bulletins with everything you need for worship will be provided to outdoor worshipers. In addition to worship outdoors, the bulletin for worship at home will continue to be available on Sundays along with the weekly watch-through video and individual video clips. This we pledge to do to accommodate those who do not yet feel able to return in person at this time, even if it’s outdoors.

Secondly, the Congregation Council has determined that outdoor worship will begin at 9:30 am each Sunday, beginning on Pentecost, May 23. This earlier time, when it is cooler in summer, reflects the reality that in coming weeks, worship at noon will be in the full heat of the day. 9:30, I am told, is also a time in keeping with Resurrection’s history of summer worship.

You can also expect a liturgy that more fully resembles the complete Sunday service we are used to. That is, what we’ll begin doing on May 23 will be substantially longer than the fifteen-minute truncated service we’ve been doing outdoors for several months. Which is to say, we encourage you to bring your own lawn chairs or picnic blankets since you may not want to stand the whole time for a more lengthy worship service! We will also likely provide a limited number of folding chairs from the church for those who don’t have lawn chairs to bring.

Moreover, beginning on Pentecost, all Sunday worship outdoors will be held on the parsonage side of the church. We will no longer meet on alternating Sundays on the Potomac Street side. This way, you won’t have to wonder where we are assembling. However, collection of food items every other week, twice a month, will continue to take place, but on the parsonage side.

In order to preserve the integrity of the Revised Common Lectionary and the diversity of scriptural voices it expresses, we will hear all of the appointed readings for coming Sundays. Additionally, there will be communal singing of hymns and worship songs, punctuating important parts of the liturgy. While I don’t plan to offer a lengthy Sunday sermon, my homiletical response to the readings will be more than the brief reflections I have offered in our truncated outdoor prayer services. We will continue to pray the full prayers of intercession each Sunday.

Yes, we shall also return to the sharing of Christ’s Peace – but alas, no handshakes or hugs at this time, please. You may want to bow to your neighbors in Christ, or wave to them, or offer some other appropriate, faithful, but physically distanced gesture.

As for the offering, that detail has not yet been settled on, but we are not likely to pass offering plates among those assembled on the church lawn. A more likely scenario is that an offering basket will be available at the fence separating the parsonage and church yards where you can place your offering as you come forward for Communion.

During the time of offering, a table, the one that resides on the parsonage deck, will be set for Holy Communion. A choir or ensemble may offer music during this time from their place on the new, brick parsonage patio. The assisting minister and I, as presiding minister, will cleanse and sanitize our hands prior to handling the bread and wine. And as I have written previously, the fence separating the church and parsonage yards will serve as a communion rail.

Which is to say, what will be the particulars for receiving the Eucharist? We intend to offer Communion in both kinds, the baked bread that Resurrection has normally used in recent years, and also the wine. A piece of the blessed bread will be dropped into your hands, palms up – with no physical contact occurring between presiding minister and communicants. The blessed wine will be administered via a specially made stoneware chalice with a pouring lip. The assisting minister will pour the wine into a receptacle, which for safety purposes, you will need to bring from home. For ease of pouring, you are encouraged to place your receptacle, such as a small juice glass, on the top of the fence – there is ample room and a flat surface for that. If you do not wish to receive the wine, you need not. You will receive the fullness of Christ’s presence in, with, and under the bread only. Gluten free hosts will be available as usual for those who need that option.

Ushers will help you find your way to the fence/altar rail in ways that are appropriately physically distanced. Couples and families may commune together as a pod, but separate from other individuals, couples and families, lining up, standing, at the fence/altar rail. Those administering Communion will work their way down the line at the fence/altar rail. When you receive the bread and wine, you can make your way, physically distanced, back to your place on the lawn. After all have communed, the liturgy will conclude in the usual way.

What about inclement, rainy weather? Bring an umbrella!

So, this is what we propose, beginning on Pentecost, Sunday, May 23 at 9:30 am. As has been our experience with worship outdoors in recent months, I suspect that our routine will evolve in ways that help us fine-tune the details. While we are trying to anticipate and cover all details, there will be inevitable glitches. Kindly be patient with us as we live into this new reality of the greater fullness of worship outdoors.

But most significantly, and to reiterate, thanks be to God that Christ will once again soon gather us to himself in the fullness of Word and Sacrament!

With such thanks to God in Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Dear Christian Friends:

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

We recently celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday, which inspired some musing on my part on the current state of seeking to shepherd, as pastor, the flock that is Resurrection Lutheran Church.

A year ago this month I took up residence in the parsonage, making my move from Phoenix and New York. I recall wondering then if I could find a convincing, helpful parable about a shepherd for whom the whole flock is scattered. There are such biblical stories about scattered sheep, and then there’s the parable about the shepherd leaving the 99 to seek the one lost sheep. What about the flock that is fully scattered, quarantined as individuals and families in their own homes throughout the area? How can one seek to shepherd a congregation that does not congregate in person?

That was then, and this is now. Which is to say, while we are not yet worshiping indoors, we are in fact now congregating in person every Sunday outdoors for worship and conversation and to give expression to our social ministry with those in need in collecting from members food items twice a month for distribution through AFAC. Sunday in these respects and in limited measure has become Sunday again, that is, the Lord’s Day that features the worshipful assembling of God’s people in person, in our case currently outdoors. This warms a pastor’s heart. Thanks be to God!

And shepherding initiatives as pastor also include the weekly sermon (video and text) and these midweek messages and our Zoom Bible studies, Evening Prayer during Advent, Lent and on festivals also via Zoom, virtual administrative meetings, care-giving via phone calls, emails, visits in person, and more. All such activities and the conversations that happen amidst them constellate to make for the work of a shepherd, a pastor. Thanks be to God.

At this point in our life together, I have a sense that solid pastoral relationships are building with the core of active members of the congregation. This number seems to be around one-hundred people and some more. But our membership records suggest that Resurrection Church has more than four-hundred persons on the books. Which is to say, there are still many members of the flock who have not yet congregated again, and that is a matter of concern to me. I have listed about one hundred additional persons named in our directories who have not been present for any of our in-person or Zoom gatherings.

Being a pastor, a shepherd, is deeply part of my personal, spiritual, and vocational identity, and pastors long to engage the flock. Not being able to connect with the fullness of the flock that is Resurrection Church disquiets me, unsettles me. So it is that I have been seeking the “lost sheep.” This effort centers on and is organized by reaching out to members on the anniversaries of their baptisms. This initiative has been quite revealing, resulting in some good conversations that allow me to better know both individuals and families. But it has also been true that when I call some of the phone numbers available to me, not infrequently I find that the numbers are no longer in service. Likewise, many emails bounce back indicating that we don’t have the most recent contact information for many. Moreover, some phone messages and emails are met with no reply at all.

All of this leaves me wondering about the nature and extent of our congregational flock. Who really constitutes this fold at this point? How many of the people I don’t yet know will return once we are worshiping in person in doors again? How best can I and we go about reaching out to the folks whom we know but who have not yet been present at our various pandemic-restricted events in person and online?

Toward generating creative responses to these questions and concerns, the Outreach and Membership Support Committee and I are convening a group to brainstorm about how to proceed in identifying whom we know to be missing in our gatherings and seeking the most up to date and preferred contact information.

In the meantime, you also can greatly assist in this effort by letting me know now members you are wondering about who have not been present in one way or another since the pandemic began. Kindly reach out to me so that I can reach out to them!

Finally, and most significantly, may Christ, the Good Shepherd, lead and guide us in faithfully tending the flock entrusted to us for the sake of our mission in and for the world.

Prayerfully, under the shepherding care of Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Week of the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Dear Christian Friends:

Eastertide continues as we continue to proclaim that Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Our Sunday morning worship outdoors in person has been an admittedly modest diet of what our usual orders of worship offer. For the sake of the safety of erring on the side of caution, we have limited our worship to an order for confession and forgiveness, the Prayer of the Day, a single reading from the lectionary, some brief homiletical comments on the reading, the prayers of intercession, Lord’s Prayer and final blessing. All of this takes place in about fifteen minutes’ time, about a quarter of what is a typical Sunday morning service.

Now that we have a solid track record with the safety of these outdoor gatherings and given that the weather is moderating to make being outdoors more pleasant and comfortable, it is now time for us, I believe, to begin to engage the greater fullness of our liturgical assemblies. My conversations with many of you reveal that you also concur with this view.

In coming weeks, therefore, watch for a further evolution of our orders for worship outdoors – the inclusion of the full set of lectionary texts, more congregational singing of hymns, a more involved homily, safe ways to share the Peace of Christ, and most notably, thanks be to God, safe ways to celebrate Holy Communion.

We have had a long suffering fast from the central things in Word and Sacrament. This we did motivated by love for our most vulnerable neighbors. We still honor these commitments, but now with the knowledge that we can, in fact, undertake the greater fullness of our liturgical life outdoors safely and appropriately.

In fact, we need this greater fullness for the sake of our individual and communal well-being in faith. Just as fasting from food in our diets should not be a long-term venture for the sake of our physical health, we likewise benefit spiritually from what God in Christ has to offer in the full range of the means of grace. Moreover, we are beckoned to be more fully fed so that we may feed others in Jesus’ name in the power of the Holy Spirit. For the sake of the world, and the divine mission entrusted to us, our days of leanness should begin to come to an end.

Indeed, Eastertide is a season of feasting. Therefore, let us begin to return to keeping the feast! Furthermore, the Day of Pentecost approaches, that festival day on which the Holy Spirit’s coming birthed the new order of life in the church, where “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) We do well to pursue the fullness of our ordered Christian lives.

In addition to pointing to the coming of our more complete liturgical celebrations outdoors and in person on Sundays, I also want to speak to the “fellowship” dimensions of our times together on Sunday mornings. Yes, it’s lovely to socialize and to connect with each other again. But please know that we engage each other not merely as a social club, but as the body of Christ, we who are members of and therefore integral to that body. We greet each other and converse with each other in Jesus’ name.

I know from my growing experience with you that many of our conversations with each other on Sundays become occasions of Mutual Conversation and Consolation among God’s family. Remember that Martin Luther included such holy conversations among the means of grace alongside preaching, baptism, Eucharist and confession and forgiveness. Thus, it is a holy thing indeed to be in blessed conversation with each other. These conversations are not ancillary but integral to Christian community. Let us not miss or overlook the holiness of our ordinary encounters with each other in Jesus’ name when we gather outdoors on Sundays.

As your pastor, I cannot emphasize enough how crucially important these conversations are to me, charged as I am to care for you, members of the flock that is Resurrection Church. These conversations are central to my work as a pastor. Especially as I am comparatively new to you, our Sunday morning conversations in person are among the principle means through which we are getting to know each other. What happens in person is far richer and more nuanced than what transpires in email exchanges, on Zoom, or even during phone conversations. It’s also true that our conversations outdoors contribute to our spiritual and emotional well-being, especially during these pandemic days of social isolation. So it is that I am available to you about an hour before the time for worship, and then for some time afterward.

So, join us on the parsonage side of the church this Sunday for worship, first and foremost, in our substituted outdoor place of Christian assembly – where the parsonage deck is our chancel, the patio serves as choir loft, the parsonage yard fence functions as an altar rail, and the wider yard becomes our nave. In Jesus’ name, for Christ’s sake, in the power of the Holy Spirit active in Word and Sacrament, this place is holy ground indeed!

Appreciatively in Christ with hopeful anticipation,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

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