For many of us the return to church on Sunday marked a significant milestone.
After months of lockdown we could join together physically once again in worship, and despite the success of online services, there is nothing quite like the real thing after such an unprecedented year.
"We are emerging from a nightmare," said the Rev. Tony Buglass during the sermon he delivered at both Haydon Bridge and Hexham West End on Sunday.
Tony used his sermon to put across some powerful messages about how the return to church signified where we are in terms of the pandemic as a whole.
"Emerging – we're not out of it quite yet, but feeling the beginnings of a new reality, a 'new normal', whatever that means," he said.
Tony focused on the first section of Luke's resurrection story, and described how the discovery of the empty tomb put the disciples into a similar situation to the one we find ourselves in today.
Tony has kindly shared the words of his sermon. Here goes...
The first sections of Luke's resurrection story build up to this moment, the first time Jesus appeared to all the disciples together:
24:1-12 gives the story of the discovery of the empty tomb, the angels telling them he was risen, and Peter looking at the discarded grave cloths and wondering what had happened.
24:13-35 has the story of the two on the Emmaus Road; what I can only describe as perfect 'panto comedy': the audience can see who it is talking to them, they don't recognise him (we want to shout out 'It's him! He's behind you!!').
We can only wonder how they didn't recognise him, perhaps the late afternoon sun was behind him, so he was a silhouette, or just that he was the one person they'd never have expected to see.
Then there's the moment of recognition, he vanishes. It had taken hours to walk down the road from Jerusalem, it was late – never mind that, it probably took half the time to hurry back with the good news.
So they're in the middle of telling the others, we can imagine the puzzled faces trying to work out why they'd tell such a story, what was really happening to make them think it was Jesus, etc, and suddenly he's there: "Shalom!"
Shock, open mouths, disbelief – until he invites them to touch him, feel him, feed him; this is not a ghost, it is Jesus, the impossible has happened, he's back.
Things begin to change immediately:
What they'd always thought about death and dying was now out of date, needed rethinking – how they'd read the scriptures needed rethinking – these were familiar texts, but now Jesus had given them a new clue, they meant something more than they'd seen in them before.
The bottom line, the growing realisation was that they were emerging from a nightmare into a different world
We are emerging from a nightmare.
We've been living through a pandemic, with the continuous threat of death, of a spreading plague, we've seen the loss of so many.
We've been unable to be with family or friends, separated from so many whom we love.
We've been unable to meet for worship and fellowship, so many of us unable even to go to work – so much of our usual routines threatened and left in chaos.
'Emerging' – we're not out of it quite yet, but feeling the beginnings of a new reality, a 'new normal', whatever that means.
The disciples had to grasp a very new reality, spread the word, witness to the new life; that's something like our experience now.
We can start getting the word out, live in hope not in fear. We still need to take care, exercise caution: just as death was still a reality for them, the virus is still a threat, we can't yet do everything we used to do.
Not 'back to normal' but out of the shadows into the 'new normal'. And that's where it gets interesting – whatever the new normal is, it won't just be a repeat of what used to be:
Some things might never be what they were: it is quite possible that the virus will never completely go, but keep mutating, so that we're always taking precautions. But some things have blossomed in the tangle, things we never expected: Zoom technology, worshipping online, which hasn't just been a stopgap until we can get together for real, but an extra, enabling us to be together in richer and multiple ways.
Now people are talking about 'hybrid church' – there are ways to include people who otherwise might not have been able to share in fellowship, not just a way of getting round lockdown.
We've used phone services, online worship, printed worship material, and rediscovered the importance of deliberately keeping in touch. Who knows where these opening doors will lead?
The resurrection changed everything. It opened up a new world, in which they knew Jesus would always be there, whether or not they could see him.
That pointed to a new way of life and discipleship. So we face the possibilities of a new world, new doorways into new ways of sharing.
The only way to do it – step out in faith and hope, believe that the new will emerge from the shadows of the old, and that we will find it together, as a new community, and discover what it holds for us.