“Semper Reformanda” – “Always Reforming” the rallying criesof the reformers. A short little phrase shouted out by the agents of change to express the Church’s need to be always reforming. Now, to reform is by definition to make changes. I don’t know about you but I’m not sure how many more changes I can bear. Since March of 2020, we have all endured 20 long months of change. Talk about a reformation. Churches all over the planet, closed the doors to their sanctuaries. Trapped in the relative safety of our homes, we found ourselves gathering not in sanctuaries, but in the ever-changing platforms of the internet. Liturgies and sermons were changed and adapted in ways we could never have imagined or entertained, as we scrambled to find ways to worship together even as we were being kept apart. Pastoral care, baptisms, funerals, committee meetings, annual meetings, bible studies, all these had to change and adapt. While here at Holy Cross we embarked on this interminable eucharistic fast. If you had told us way back when this long covid nightmare began that it would last this long, I’m not sure we would have had the courage to endure it.
Back in the early days, many of us assumed that we would be back inside our buildings by Easter, celebrating together. But Easter came and went, so we looked toward Homecoming, hoping that the summer months would get us to a place where we could come home into our sanctuaries. Then before we knew it, Reformation Sunday came and went, so we looked toward Christmas, and then Christmas came and went, and then another Easter, on and on it went through the second summer, and second Homecoming, and now here we stand, pardon the pun. But here we stand, ready to at last to tentatively open the doors to this sanctuary so that we can gather together, in-person for worship.
I say tentatively, because I’m not sure what will happen when we open the doors. So, much has changed. None of us are the same as we once were. There have been so many losses. Monumental losses. There have been surprises. So very many surprises. Challenges, where do we begin to list all the challenges we have encountered? The enumerable challenges have resulted in an untold number of changes. Change upon, change, upon change. If ever the church has needed to embrace the need to always be reforming, it has been during these past 20 months. So, if like me, you are longing for some freedom from semper reformanda, the need to be always reforming, well who can blame us?
Over the past few weeks, I suspect that like me, you have also heard, or perhaps even said yourselves, phrases like, “won’t it be nice to get back to normal?” The trouble is there is no going back to normal, not for any of us and certainly not for the church. Each of us is forever changed by our experiences. The Church, which was struggling long before lockdowns, is forever changed by this long exile from our sanctuaries. The truth is, normal wasn’t working very well for the Church. As weary as many of us are of all the changes we have experienced during this exile, most of us know, we know it in our bones that none of us can go back to the way things were. That’s just not how life works. We have all changed, our families have changed, our friends have changed, our neighbourhoods have changed, our country has changed, our world has changed, and so has our church. And so, in the words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther, “Here I stand, for I can do no other.”
Here we stand on the threshold of a new tomorrow. On Reformation Sunday we will open the doors to this sanctuary. Some of you will be able to cross the threshold into this place and others of you will have to continue to cross technological thresholds in order to be with us. All of us will have to cross various thresholds in order to continue to emerge from this long exile. Thresholds, or doorways, are by their very nature liminal spaces. Liminal means transitional. Liminal spaces, or thresholds are also what our ancestors often referred to as “thin places”. Places where the boundaries between the SARCED and the ordinary are very thin.
I always feel very vulnerable in thin places, betwixt and between, what was and what is to come. That vulnerability can sometimes make me fearful or cause me to put up defenses. Not knowing what I will encounter beyond the threshold can be frightening. Sometimes, I find myself lingering in doorways, wondering how to muster up the courage to move through the threshold into the unknown.
If I am honest, I suppose that there is part of me, the fearful part of me, that would just as soon stay right where I am. It may not be where I want to be, but I’ve become accustomed to the way things are here and now and I’m not sure I’m ready for whatever lies ahead. So, here I stand, in this empty sanctuary, doing what I’ve learned to do during our exile, not knowing what comes next, full of anticipation and trepidation as the words of our ancestors echo down through the centuries, “semper reformanda”
From within this threshold, this thin place, my skin is not as tough or as thick as it has needed to be during these long months. I can feel the excitement begin to penetrate my defenses, and my fear is beginning to be replaced by my longing to move through this doorway into whatever the future holds. But before I can move ahead, the words of the gospel which has been proclaimed on Reformation Sundays for generations, penetrate this thin place, as I anticipate the transformation of this ordinary room into a sacred sanctuary. From the anonymous gospel-storyteller we call John, we hear that, Jesus said to the people who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31)
Free, who among us doesn’t long to be free. Free to gather. Free to hope. Free to laugh and sing and rejoice. Free to dream. Free to grieve together. Free to comfort one another. Free to hope. Free to be all that we are created to be. I know, I know. Here I sand. Here I stand in a threshold that is wider than I would like, a threshold which will take longer to pass through than I would like. But here I stand, longing for the freedom to be all that I am created to be. I don’t yet know what lies beyond this threshold. None of us know what we are about to become. Sure, we know something about the restrictions which lie on the other side of this doorway. COVID hasn’t gone away, and we will have to take care of one another. Some of us aren’t going to cross this threshold with us. We’ve lost some dear friends. Many of the problems we had before going into exile are still there or have grown into bigger problems. It’s tempting to simply grow thicker skin and set up stronger defenses. But here we stand, in this thin place. And low and behold, there are new people standing here with us. We’ve learned new ways to be with one another. We’ve extended the size of our sanctuary, beyond these walls, to include room for people who are just beginning to get to know us and whom we are just beginning to get to know.
There are new opportunities for us to explore as we begin to unpack the blessings which flowed like manna in the wilderness of our exile. All those smiling faces on screens who ventured into newly created space on internet platforms, you too are here on this threshold, you are like sacred manna sustaining us, even as we have been manna sustaining you. So, here we stand, together, in this thin place, this liminal space, this threshold, to quote the good Dr. Luther, “for we can do no other.” Here we stand in the doorway into a new way of being together.
Semper reformanda, always reforming. There’s a SACRED freedom in all this change, a freedom for us to linger as we both remember, with more than a tinge of nostalgia, the way things were, together with the freedom to hope and dream for what we will become as we change and grow together. So, let our celebration of Reformation, be just that, a celebration. Let us take the time we need to recall what was, to see what is, and to dream of what might be. Let the truth of where we have been, the truth of what is, and the truth of what lies ahead, set us free to be all that we are created to be. Our lives together are a gift and LOVE is the point of our lives together. Let these truths set us free to be all that we are created to be. Let truth free us to be LOVE in the world, the whole world, all the various worlds in which we live and move and have our being. Whether those worlds are here in this place, or over the various media through which you are able to connect with one another.
Let us embrace our freedom to be LOVE, LOVE which IS BEYOND the BEYOND, and BEYOND that also. Here I stand. Here you stand. Here we stand. For we can do no other. May the truth set us free to be LOVE, now and always, in-person, on-line, crossing thresholds, creating sanctuary for one another, nourishing, grounding and sustaining one-another, manna for one another, manna for the exciting journey LOVE invites us to make, here and now. Semper Reformanda! Always Reforming.