Happy New Year! I hope these days of holiday and new beginnings have been good ones, if not even wonderfully enjoyable. Of course, for most of us, the 2020 holiday season was different from any we have ever experienced before, and probably different than we hope to ever have to experience again. For many of us, this year of social distancing meant being unable to travel to see some members of our family, or some other holiday tradition shelved for this season. For many of those who were able to travel, or blessed to have family members come to town, no doubt it was still not the same. But now we enter the new year – a time that, for many, feels like an opportunity for a re-start, a do-over. Such is the mental blessing of certain days that mark our calendars. But of course, for the Christian, as has been so pithily expressed in many and various places, “Our hope is not (so much) in the New Year, as it is in the One who makes all things new!”
As we begin this new year at Grace Covenant, we will resume a pattern in our worship gatherings that has become somewhat of our norm during these past few months. (I say “somewhat our norm” because nothing really feels quite normal yet. But we do have some patterns.) This Sunday, being the first of the month, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. And next Sunday, January 10, we will resume our study of Romans.
As we prepare for celebrating the Lord’s Supper together, I want to offer a couple of reminders.
First, a reminder to all who will virtually participate in our worship service online. This past September, the Elders of Grace Covenant – recognizing the extraordinary time we are living in, a time that has providentially hindered many from in-person worship, and yet also by God’s providence allows for church members to remain somewhat connected through the Internet – the Elders made a decision to invite those who are worshipping with us from home to participate in the Lord’s Supper. This decision is a “stretch” of our regular practice, and of our church’s constitutional standard, but the Elders were in agreement about the importance of the Table, and about this extraordinary time requiring some extraordinary allowances. Nevertheless, though this allowance makes participation easier, we urge everyone to remember that participating at Table is a holy privilege, and that partaking of the elements, whether in the church sanctuary or your living room, should not be done lightly.
This leads to the second reminder: Everyone should prepare himself/herself before partaking of the Table. As 1 Corinthians 11.28 declares: “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.” This examinations should take place, not only in the moments between the message and the distribution of the elements, but even in the hours and days in advance. In September I offered a link to a short article, How to Prepare Yourself for the Lord’s Supper, adapted from the writings of an old Puritan named Thomas Haweis. I would again commend this article, and considering each of the ways the author recommends we examine ourselves before coming to the Table. As 1 Corinthians 11 reminds us, it is when we come to the Table with the proper mindset that we get the most benefit from the Table.
Finally, another reminder to those who will participate from home. In anticipation of resuming the Lord’s Supper in the Fall, we offered this practical instruction:
We urge everyone participating online to set aside a bread and grape juice or wine. In other words, don’t just pinch off a piece of the bread you will use for lunch, or use the same glass of grape juice you are having with your breakfast. Give some thought to what these elements represent. If possible, perhaps find some matzah or matzah crackers, though any bread is fine. It’s not necessary to set aside a whole loaf of bread, but some may wish to do so. But whatever bread is used, have the pieces ready to partake at the same time as those who are partaking in the sanctuary. Same for the wine/juice. Have it ready for all participants, pre-poured into some vessel, ready to drink while those in the sanctuary are drinking. What amount of wine/juice? That’s up to you. But I would encourage pouring out any juice leftover in the cup (not necessarily the whole bottle), after partaking. This is more symbolic than essential, but I believe you will find benefit in distinguishing the elements used for communion from the food and drink you consume in day-to-day life.
I believe this is still good practical instruction.
Social Distance Protocols
These reminders about the Lord’s Table may be all the more beneficial for many as we come out of the holiday season. It is quite likely, at least for these next few weeks, that more folks may participate in worship from home than in the sanctuary. There have been wide-spread warnings from the medical community of the potential, even likelihood, of the coronavirus spreading more rapidly these first few weeks of the year, as there were significantly more social gatherings during the holiday season. Consequently there are a number of folks from Grace Covenant, including some who had been joining us in-person throughout the Fall, who will be self-quarantining for a time. This is understandable. Concerns about the virus may be especially personal, as it is presently effecting at least two Grace Covenant families – the Jesters and the Hirlingers – for whom we are all praying. Like many churches, we have some diversity of thought regarding the virus, especially as it pertains to things like participating in public worship. We have been fortunate in that our diverse ideas have not caused division within the church, as I have heard it has in a number of congregations across the country. I want to ask that you join me in praying that we continue in that harmony, even with our diversity of thought. The best way I can think of to continue to cultivate that harmony is to care for one another, by praying for one another, and by practicing the prescribed social distance protocols for the benefit of others. Even if you are one who is less concerned about the infectiousness of the virus, Jesus’ call to love one another is a call to recognize that others are concerned – some very concerned – and many for good reason. While some are also concerned with possible restrictions of freedoms, all of us, as Christians, should see this as a time when we can use our freedoms as an opportunity to serve one another in love. (See Galatians 5.13) So, for those who will be joining us in-person for worship, we urge in the strongest possible ways that you wear a mask while in the church building, even while singing. The worship team and the pastors will also be wearing our masks, even while leading the service.
When in Rome
While this week our worship service will be “table-centered”, most weeks at Grace Covenant (and at other churches within our tradition) we are Word-centered. Next week we will resume our study of Romans. When we resume we will pick up at a turning point in the Letter to the Romans. In Romans 1-11, the Apostle Paul lays a theological foundation, explaining essential truths of our Faith. We had titled our series to date as Adventures in Romans: Making Sense of What Matters Most. But in Romans 12-16, which we will explore through Memorial Day, Paul build upon that foundation that has been laid. The focus of these last chapters is how we are to live in light or, or in line with, the truths of Romans 1-11. So while we will be resuming our study, in another sense we will be beginning a new series, which I am titling When In Rome: Living Out What We Really Believe. I’ll give more detail in my note next week.
Just a couple quick notes, as I close out this note:
We have scheduled our annual congregational meeting for Sunday January 24. The Elders still need to make final decisions about how we will hold that meeting, as present restrictions would allow only 10 people to attend. Most likely the meeting will be virtual – via Zoom. At this meeting we will not only review this past year, and present the budget for 2021, but we also expect to present three candidates to be elected to be ordained as Deacons: David Hoffman, Daniel Malone, Jim Becraft. Each of these men have been serving as Deacon Assistants, alongside our Deacons; and each has completed our officer training course, required for all who serve as church officers (Deacons & Elders). Over the next week or so, each of these men will also complete a written examination and be interviewed by our Elders. Expecting all three men to represent themselves well, we will ask that you, the congregation, vote on their candidacy for the office of Deacon. They can only assume this office by your consent. I ask that you pray for each of these men, as they complete their ordination trials; and that you pray for wisdom and discernment, whether you want any or all of these men to serve and lead our church as Deacons.
Finally, I want to again thank you, the Grace Covenant family, for the generosity you exhibited during 2020. Thanks to you, while many churches across the country struggled financially, we were able to meet all of our commitments, and even to give to other ministries because of our abundance. One ministry in particular, we were able to proved a generous gift to the Ethnos Coalition– a church planting network of Mission to North America among ethnic minorities. This is just one of several ways your gifts have been a blessing to the world beyond the doors of Grace Covenant, and that have enabled us as a church to participate as partners in the work of the Kingdom of Christ! May God provide again for us in 2021, that we may see His glory among the Nations!
Grace & Peace,
W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor