We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.Romans 8:22-27
For this year’s Pentecost observance at Old South, we spent much less time focusing on the most common Pentecost passage—Acts 2—and more on one of the other readings from the lectionary: Romans 8:22-27. On Pentecost, I’m usually drawn—year after year—on the dramatic passage from Acts. The mighty wind, the tongues of fire, the various languages, the accusation of drunkenness. There’s just so much to like, so much to consider, so much great material.
It was all so different this year. The Acts passage didn’t resonate as it normally does. So, I found myself floundering a bit, wondering what I was going to do. Lots of Old South folk would be getting into the Pentecost vibe, wearing some sort of red. What could I say, or do, that would feel inspiring and dramatic?
And, then I found it. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul offering just what I needed now, in 2021 Hallowell, Maine—groaning, sighing and pain.
For this moment in which we find ourselves, in the context of the last year plus a few months, this is just the thing—acknowledging the groaning, sighing and pain that the pandemic has brought, as we have become the new thing that we are. And, appreciating that what’s next will very likely bring its own groaning and sighing. And pain.
At the start of the pandemic, Old South—small congregation filled mostly with post-retirement folks—was willing to try a lot of new things. Most of them, anyway. We moved to a mostly remote worship and then a fully remote worship. We endeavored to make worship both new and old at the same time, with music and a participatory experience. It helped a lot that the Music Director regularly recorded preludes and postludes from the church sanctuary. The Music Director also gathered a group of “hymn singers” who have been recording hymns for worship, with the words added to the video. And, we brought our new knowledge to meetings and other gatherings. We also tried some new tricks for worship, like slide shows and other visual devices. We even worshiped with another congregation from time to time.
Did this transition happen with joy, excitement and enthusiasm? With a spirit of “let’s try more new things!”?
In a word: no. There was a lot of groaning and sighing. And, the utterance of bad words.
Like lots of other good church people, we did what we had to do. Mostly. Some wouldn’t go along, no matter how much coaching was offered. Others were suspicious of worshiping online, declaring that it felt an awful lot like “social media.” For those willing to brave this new thing, there was a fair amount of what I would call a willing spirit. Sure, let’s give this new thing a try, if it will keep us together as a community. But, that didn’t mean that the groaning would be set aside.
There was groaning. And sighing. And, other expressions of frustration. But, we managed, and came up with something that was worshipful and meaningful. We have grown, spiritually speaking, as a community of faith.
Now, we must bring our groaning, sighing spirits to what’s next. While it may be tempting to just slide back into what we were, we know that we cannot. We’ve left that behind.
What’s ahead, however we are able to be a hybrid church, will very likely include a lot of groaning. And sighing. And, the utterance of some bad words.
So, bring on the groans, and the sighs, for they are signs of the Spirit with us.