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A Pastoral Letter | May 1, 2020

To Covenant Presbyterian Church,
I write this week overwhelmed with God’s kindness and your faithfulness. April giving ($27,166 toward a need of $27,769) would have been something to celebrate, even if April had been an ordinary April. You have continued to support the church and its ministries even though we are apart. This is so deeply important for our future. I can’t emphasize that enough. I know I speak for all the officers of CPC when I say thanks to you. [If you are at all confused regarding how to give, this document can give you guidance.]
The question on everyone’s mind as we enter May is when we might return to gathered worship. There are many factors controlling that decision, from the advice of the CDC and the governor, to the comfort level of our church and civic community. Theologically, we know we need to worship together and that continued isolation for the Christian is not a long-term good. It is never “just as good” to worship at home, before a computer or television, or on a hike or at the beach. This is not the way things are meant to be, and yet for a time longer they need to be. The session has begun to discuss the proper protocol for a return. We need to prepare ourselves for the reality that when we return, there will be changes. Even though the curve is more flattened, we are still living in a pandemic environment which will require accommodations. What those will be are only now beginning to take shape. We will share more as we draw closer to a decision on when it will be safe to meet.
It is important to keep in mind that different churches will make different decisions regarding the best day and most appropriate conditions for regathering. As well, there will be different opinions among us. If ever there was a time that called for charity toward one another, this is it! I’m grateful for this congregation for charity is one of your most sterling attributes.
The longer we are away from each other, the more distant I feel from your heart and the more I find I must in prayer wish God’s blessing upon you. The desire of all your elders, that is, all your pastors, is that God’s rich care would be present and near even when we are not. To that end, this week, one of your elders, Jon Boardman, would like again to share his heart with you. So I turn the rest of this letter over to Jon.
As I approach the final stretch of the school year, on my couch, I am contemplating how to end the year with my seniors. A short unit on poetry comes to mind. More specifically, the Romantic poets of the early 19th century and one particular poem by Lord Byron, “The Destruction of Sennacherib” (see the end of this email for the full text of the poem) seems relevant. The poem is about Assyria’s failed attack on Jerusalem; it failed because God sent an angel to destroy Judah’s enemies:
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

Ominously, the Angel of Death is described as some kind of plague that strikes the people with a “breath” of death. Although much more dreadful than the current pandemic, the fear is no less the same and the possibility of death is no less real.
As we face quarantine, and this unseen virus surrounding our cities, I take comfort in the God who is there. I am reminded of 2 Kings 6:15-18:
15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" 16 He said, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, "O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see." So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 18 And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, "Please strike this people with blindness." So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. 
No matter how heavy the load or how daunting the foe/obstacle, God’s presence makes the journey—and our current social isolation—possible. Our courage arises from the confidence that God is more present (real) and more powerful than anything we face in this world.
I’ll remind my students that. Better yet, I’ll spare them the unit on poetry.
Now may God bless you and keep you. May he make his face smile upon you and be gracious to you. And may he lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Your pastor(s),
Randy (and Jon)
Full text of poem:
“The Destruction of Sennacherib” by Lord Byron
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.
For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

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