What Shall Be?

Advent Reflection, Friday, December 4

By: David H. May, Rector

I was standing in New St. Mary’s not long ago. It was late afternoon, and the sun was already low, already turning everything golden. The church, as you know, is open and empty. The dozens of pews are still stored in the parish hall, waiting to be returned and bolted into the floor. But for now, it’s still empty.

That afternoon, I was wondering what it will be like for all of us to be gathered there again. I know it will happen and will happen in this coming year. But what will it be like? I’m not quite sure. Will it be a process of coming back together little by little? Probably. After so many months of communicating indirectly and distantly on social media, or indirectly in-person from behind masks, will it be awkward, weird, maybe overwhelming? For some of us it will be. What will it be like to come back together to sing and pray and come to the altar with our hands stretched out and empty before God? I don’t know.

But then a thought occurred to me. In some ways, I still think of myself as new to St. Mary’s I don’t know all the stories and all the names that go with those stories. I don’t know all the deaths and resurrections that have shaped this congregation. But I have been here long enough to remember where a lot of you sit on Sunday mornings.

So, that late afternoon, I began to look around that big empty space and think about you. ‘Ok’, I thought, ‘that’s where Andy sits. And the Howletts. And the McCoys. And over there, right up front is where Jane and Sam sat. And when I look up, that’s where Beth stands in the choir loft, singing. And over there Cammy and Charlie. And Isabel.

And over there in the west transept is Bob with a look like he’s up to something. And the Newmans nearby, beaming. And on the other side the Trices, along with the comings and goings at almost any given moment that is the life of the east transept which I adore. And way at the back, Staige, and hearing her voice clearly calling out, praying.

And, I think, every one of us is changed now, by what we are all going through. I suppose it’s possible to make your way through these days and stay unchanged. Theoretically. But my guess is that that would require a kind of effort that would be just too hard to pull off month after month.

So, what will it be like when the Spirit of God calls us back together? For starters, I for one will treasure the grounding and long-absent familiarity of worshipping together. But even more, I wonder what such a gathering of changed people will be like. We’ll be back in ‘our pew’ but changed.

When John the Baptist begins preaching in the wilderness, he calls for people to change, to turn away from an old life that (whether they realized it or not) is over and done with, and turn to the Living God. That’s what John means by repentance: turning away from what was and turning toward God for what shall be.

What shall be? How will we be available to the Spirit of God in ways that never would have been possible before? I don’t know. But I am filled with hope for what shall be in the new year that is coming and seeing us back in ‘our pews’ but changed.