The First Epistle to the Harrovians

I’d almost forgotten this piece I wrote over a year ago, near the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It appeared in The Harrow News in May, 2020. I also made this video back then, in my make-shift basement office. (Which has undergone a lot of renovation, and become far more comfortable!)

Pastoral Message from Rev. Darrow Woods of Harrow United Church: “First Epistle to the Harrovians”

Early Christian missionaries wrote to faith communities they’d helped to establish. Some letters are preserved in the New Testament. Imagine if one of those early Jesus followers wrote to us, in our current situation.

To the people of Harrow, and surrounding communities, and all others created, loved, and blessed by God: Grace and peace to you. It seems such a long time since we have seen each other face to face!

I give thanks for the multitude of ways you are blessed, and in turn, offer numerous blessings to others, especially those in need.

We face many challenges. Much we take for granted has been disrupted. Your sadness over your losses is real, but do not allow your grief, your frustration to justify abandoning the efforts to keep the most vulnerable among us safe.

As Paul, our brother in faith once wrote, “I have the right to do anything,” you say- but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”- but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

I appeal to you to live out of a spirit of hope, and generosity, even in these trying times. Resist the temptation to follow the counsel of the loudest, the most extreme, those who care ultimately only for themselves. Resist also the temptation to grasp on to quick and simple solutions to complex problems. Avoid the trap of the “blame game”.

Place your real faith, your confidence in God, the Creator of the Universe, as revealed to us in love. Let “Jesus-like” love, that places the well-being of others before our own, guide and inspire us. This love is it’s own reward, and is most pleasing to God.

I continue to pray for those who have suffered the loss of loved ones, and were denied, by current circumstances, the consolation of the community gathered around them for a funeral. Our hearts are with them.

Pray for your elected officials, and those appointed to preserve the common good. We may not all be called to serve in positions of power and authority, but each of us, each day, can be kind. We can be unselfish. Let us not squander these opportunities, but instead, actively seek ways to be of help, and to show support to those who place themselves at risk on our behalf.

Some of you have asked, “How do we continue in the life of faith, when we no longer gather on the Lord’s Day? Are we not instructed to worship and pray together? Are we not to be devoted to  breaking the bread and sharing the cup?”

The way of faith, revealed to us in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, is often difficult, but only becomes impossible when we attempt it without God.  God is always prepared to help us. God is always with us, even, and especially in these times when we cannot be with each other.

The people of the Way, followers of Jesus, grew as a movement long before we had the resources to build meeting places, which became our places of worship. In the earliest days, the homes of believers were the places in which faith was shared, taught, and lived.

You are not alone in your struggles, your questions, your anxieties for the present, and the future. We are all joined, united by God’s Spirit, who prays with and for us, often in sighs too deep for words, and with the wisdom of the One who truly knows us, for they were present as all things were created.

Do not abandon the ways of God, for God has surely not abandoned us. We share in the promise of God’s love, which is deeper, wider, higher, more encompassing than any of the things which frighten or threaten us. There is more to us than our fear, and there is more to our existence than the present situation.

You are God’s beloved. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. Amen

Worship for Sunday, March 21, 2021

Learning Time: Giving Thanks for Food, and for Life, even, especially now

Video:  The Carrie Newcomer song “Room at the Table”, with some poignant pictures.

We’ve used this song other times as we’ve prepared to celebrate the sacrament of communion. I really like the basic message, because here at Harrow United Church we keep an open table, at which we make room for everyone. The song is by a folk singer and song-writer name Carrie Newcomer. 

The official music video her record company issued was filled with joyful images of people of many different backgrounds, ages, shapes and sizes, dancing, eating, enjoying their time together. 

I’ve since discovered a few variations, including one by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, which shows images of hungry people around the world being fed. I think Carrie Newcomer would approve.

I found this version we just viewed a few days ago. It struck me as powerful in different ways. Some of the images make me feel incredibly sad, because the people look like they are suffering, and others leave feeling a bit envious, because the people are enjoying themselves in large, joyous gatherings.

Can you remember when we could get together in a big room full of people, and eat, and drink, and visit, and listen to several conversations all at once?  The simple fun of hearing and seeing a room full of people happy to be together without masks, and without the need to keep the length of a hockey stick apart.

We have been living with the pandemic, officially, for just over a year. It was on Saint Patrick’s Day last year that my wife and daughter drove to Waterloo to pick up our son, because his university residence was being locked down. 

It’s been a tough year, for many. The virus has taken millions of lives, and disrupted the lives, and the livelihood of billions of people. I am hard pressed to think of a place in the world, or an aspect of life that has not been touched. 

When I watched this “room at the table” video, I thought about those who are struggling with food security these days.  It was touching to see the images in which hungry people were being offered love and care, and food.

I am grateful, that my family has what we need, and we have the means to help others. I remember times when the family I grew up in did not have what we needed. I also remember what it is like to be on the receiving end. I remember times when what was given came freely, and other times, when I could see the strings of expectation and obligation, and judgment.

There is a powerful spiritual connection between gratitude and generosity. Being thankful makes me more inclined to give, which in turn leaves me feeling even more grateful, because I am able to give. It’s a good cycle to be caught up in!

I am also very grateful to be part of a faith community that places a high value on helping make sure that people do not go hungry, especially in these tough times. 

If you want to help others with donations of food, or money, let us know, and we will make sure your generous gifts are put to good use. If you or your family are in need, let us know, and we will do what we can to help you directly, or to connect you with others who can help. Harrow United Church supports the Harrow Food Bank, the Windsor Downtown Mission, and we have a good relationship with the Harrow Community Pantry, which also helps make sure families do not fall through the cracks.

Food is such a basic part of our human experience. Our bodies need fuel to function, and we literally are what we eat- our bodies are built from the nutrients we take in. More than that, we use food to show hospitality and welcome, to celebrate, to commiserate, to console, to reward. 

Most of us have been so used to gathering around a table, and sharing a meal. It has been a strange year, in which opportunities for such gatherings are limited, and have changed. Have you had a Zoom or Facetime meal yet? Opening a lap-top or a propping up a phone so that the person on the other end can see through your camera lens, who is with you at your table, and what you are having?

Our son Joel, who has returned to university in Waterloo, lives in the residence run by the historically Mennonite college, Conrad Grebel. One of many things we like about Grebel is an ongoing practice they have in their cafeteria, called “fill the table”. The understanding when you come down for a meal, is that when you have your food, and you go to sit down, you do not go to a new, empty table, if there is a spot open at another table. If it works out that everyone has been seated, and one person is going to be on their own, diners will pick up their tray, to form a new group. No one is left out. 

They have had to adapt their practices for COVID, with plastic shields in place, and less diners at each table, but the community building rule is still in place.

I think Jesus would like that. Jesus lived his earthly life that way. He sought out the company of people that no-one else wanted to be with. I use the word company on purpose. It is made of two words. “Com”, which is also one of the roots of the word community means “with”, and the “panion” part is from the word for “bread”, which is panis. A companion is literally someone with whom you share bread.

It’s hard to think of a more tangible way to show basic concern, acceptance, support, hospitality and love for a person, than to be willing to break bread with them- even if it is not bread. One of my favourite books from seminary was a book of theology from Asia called “God is Rice”.

As we are reminded in today’s Gospel story, Jesus broke bread and shared it, with crowds of people, many of whom were hungry, lonely, frightened, discouraged, weighed down with sadness, or guilt, or shame. The physical hunger they felt at meal time may only have been a part of the need they felt. To be welcomed to a meal, with a host who was genuinely happy to see them! How wonderful!

In this year of changes, and losses, I have talked with many people about grief. I have been reminded that so often grief is the flip-side of love. We miss who, and what we have loved.

We can’t really grieve losing a person that we didn’t know and love, and every time we risk knowing and loving someone, we take the risk that at some point later on, we will grieve losing them. Grief, and gratitude are intimately connected. 

Often, I think, when our hearts are hungry, for the way things once were, for time with our loved ones, our hunger is also flavoured with gratitude, for what we have once tasted. So I have this idea that to some degree, we can be grateful, even for our hunger, because it reminds us of what we have had.

When we share from the blessed bread and cup today, whether in person, or virtually, it gives us just a taste, perhaps enough to help us remember, to long for, to be grateful for, all the ways we are fed by God. Amen