March 26, 2023
Note on context: the congregation was invited to wear pajamas to church in commemoration of three years since the beginning of the COVID lockdown.
There’s a funny thing about calendars: the same day keeps coming around each year. I know that’s an obvious thing to say, but have you ever noticed how we’ll attach so much significance to certain days? We’ll take the time to get dressed up and invite friends over every year on our birthdays. We commemorate events like Veteran’s Day and Independence Day. The whole world shoots off fireworks at the new year! When something is important enough, we like to set aside a day just to focus on it. That’s why we’re wearing pajamas today!
I’d been talking about doing this for at least two years now, and I think it’s a good way to celebrate and remember. See, three years ago, y’all remember, we had no choice but to worship in our pajamas. We sat on our couches and sipped coffee while watching our TVs or smartphones or tablets or laptop screens, and worshipped apart, together. We did it because we had to. We had to keep each other safe; we had to slow the spread of a deadly virus; we had to react to this thing that shuttered the entire world.
And now, we’re on the other side of it. Yes, COVID still affects people, and it’s still circulating. But, at this point we’ve overcome some spectacular challenges. It’s not the nightmare that it was when we saw hospital ships parked outside New York City or when hospitals across the country were so overwhelmed with patients that they just didn’t have room to spare. Church services don’t have to be conducted with limited numbers wearing masks. School events aren’t being cancelled and gatherings aren’t being restricted. We’ve come through an ordeal—and why not celebrate it? Why not take a Sunday where we can remember what we went through together—and how we have emerged to a new world in its wake?
Now, I don’t expect any of y’all to remember precisely what I said in my sermon on this text three years ago, but I do. I talked about Ezekiel, and the valley of the dry bones. I talked about how we felt, two weeks into the lockdown, broken and worried like the Israelites who had found themselves cast into exile. And I talked about how it wasn’t enough for God to lay the whitened bones over with sinew and flesh and skin. That God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the breath! That it wasn’t going to be enough for God to restore us to the same old same old of the church before the pandemic. God was going to do something new with us when, like Lazarus, we were finally called out of the “tomb” of the pandemic.
And if we look around, I hope we notice that we’re not the same as we were before. Yes, we’re not wearing masks like we were. And we’re not wearing gloves, or being quite as obsessive about wiping things down with sanitary wipes. And we’re not wary of anyone with a cough. But we are different. We are changed. We may have been tempted to just set things up exactly as before, but we didn’t. We saw the changed world that has happened in the wake of the pandemic, and we started asking new questions, wondered new thoughts, dreamed new dreams, that the Spirit was calling us in a new direction of ministry.
Because of the pandemic, we were forced to ask the questions about what God’s mission for us looks like even when we can’t meet in person. We used the best gifts that technology can give us to stay connected, learning that worshipping online wasn’t some secondary or less-than version of worshipping, but could connect us with people who for whatever reason couldn’t be present with us in person.
Because of the pandemic, we realized just how deeply we loved each other. We felt the ache of being away from each other, and our eagerness for something as simple and ordinary as having a cup of coffee with an old friend. We learned to value each other’s presence, and saw just how important each and every person in our congregation is to the work God calls us to do.
Because of the pandemic, we embraced new ways of passing on the faith. We realized that with some cues and a quick activity, we could share stories of Jesus with our kids at home, even if we couldn’t get to Sunday school. We could use technology to share lessons, bridging the gap for confirmation learning even when gathering was hard.
Because of the pandemic, we learned about what we value. We found out what’s important. We got a glimpse of how the world could be reset, how we could do things differently, how we could share the good news of the kingdom that centers the value of each and every one of us. And God’s work in and with and through us only grew because of it.
Ministries like our Sunshine Crew, who took the value of being present to be a mission of our congregation. Or like the choir, who found a new pace and rediscovered the importance of sacred music when we couldn’t sing together for so long. Or like Sunday school, who saw serving others as just as integral as learning the stories of the Bible as its mission. Or like the Lutefisk supper, that showed us old traditions can adapt to new realities and still thrive. Or like any other of our congregational ministries, changing to meet the new pace and pattern the world has taken on, so that through us people’s lives may be touched by Jesus.
The thing is, we were like Lazarus, stuck in the tomb. Like Lazarus, we had a brush with death as we navigated the pandemic. Like Lazarus, we have been changed by the experience in ways that we maybe don’t even fully understand. And like Lazarus, we have been called out by Jesus to live a new life that witnesses to the mighty works of God.
So yes, we wear pajamas today in worship. We do it because we will remember what happened, what we went through together, and what lessons we learned. We do it so we won’t be lulled into pretending it didn’t happen. We do it to be silly—because while we may weep when tragedy strikes, we can laugh knowing that death and all its powers are defeated by the God who calls us out of the tombs. And we do it, we wear pajamas today, because sometimes we need to mark a day for something important that happened, and make it memorable enough to stick.
Thanks be to God. Amen.