Another year comes to a close for us here at Zion, and it’s been quite a year. While it’s always good to reflect on the past year as it comes to a close, this year I think it’s doubly important. But we’re tempted not to. Most of us have simply wanted to be over and done with 2020 since not long after it began. We want to put this year in the rear-view mirror and speed into 2021 and the return to life as we knew it before any of us had ever heard of a coronavirus or knew where Wuhan, China was.
I know it has been a hard year for many of you. Many have faced unemployment or at least slow business, managed working from home while navigating the challenges of e-learning with children, suffered illness and lingering effects from the sickness, had to call off travel plans, vacations, and quality time with extended family, or even laid a beloved member of the family to rest to await Jesus’ return. It’s been a challenging year for all of us, so it’s understandable if you don’t want to think about 2020 anymore.
But I beg you to resist that temptation. Because as difficult as this year has been, our Lord has still been present with us and showered us with His grace and blessing this year no less than in 2019 or than He surely will in 2021. God has been with Zion this year, and we want to take some time to reflect on His gifts to us and to give thanks for all of the ways He has been at work among us.
Well, it’s no secret that our life together at Zion has been different this year. I remember discussing the coronavirus in January as a remote problem that was contained largely to China. By our elders meeting on March 11th, we acknowledged that we probably should take a few precautions to help keep people healthy. By March 22nd, we were having our first livestream-only Sunday service. Those were challenging weeks for us, as we all tried to manage worshipping in our living rooms for the first time. It came at a bad time too. We were not together for Holy Week or for Easter, the most sacred celebration in the church year.
But there were also blessings even during that difficult time of separation. Dozens watched or listened to daily prayer services with the pastors. We were able to begin offering a way to listen to services live through the telephone. Several children were baptized in small private ceremonies. We had opportunities for small communion services during the shutdown and even began to offer a new Wednesday Matins service each week. God was abundantly present with His Word and His Sacraments. And He has promised that His Word does not return to Him empty but accomplishes the purpose for which He sends it (Isaiah 55:11).
What a blessing it was on May 3rd to begin gathering again for worship in the Lord’s house. We had still been hearing God’s Word, but now we were able to hear it together again, and receive from our Lord the gift of each other, the mutual conversation and consolation we give each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. I was especially grateful we returned to worship that day because Warren Bult, one of our long-time 8am ushers and a sitting elder, went to be with Jesus that very week. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were able to be with Him one more time until we too go to our heavenly reward. Warren was able to gather with his family at Zion, and even more importantly, receive from the Lord the blessed medicine of eternal life, Jesus’ body and blood, one last time.
This past year marked the departure of one of Zion’s faithful pastors, Rev. Thomas Brown, who followed the Lord’s call to serve the Lord of the harvest in another harvest field. I know that he and his family are missed by all of us and will be remembered for many years to come. I still find myself thinking and saying things that I first heard and learned from Pastor Brown. He has left a legacy of faithful preaching and teaching and loving pastoral care that will still bear fruit for years to come.
But the Lord is at work even in the painful goodbyes. Zion was also blessed to welcome to service Rev. Mark Mischnick, who began serving as a pastoral assistant. We have already been very blessed to have Pastor Mischnick preach the gospel, administer the supper, teach us God’s Word, and visit the sick and suffering. The Lord is at work through His Word, no matter which servant He calls to deliver it to us. We are so very thankful that He has sent Pastor Mischnick to serve among us!
Much of God’s work happens in the ordinary parts of our congregation’s life. This past year was no exception. Here are some highlights of God’s work this year:
- 12 children were given new life in baptism.
- 3 adults and 11 children confessed the faith and were confirmed.
- 8 adults transferred their membership to Zion and 4 were received by profession of faith.
- 10 saints of God at Zion entered their heavenly rest in Jesus.
- 2 couples were united by God in holy matrimony.
Despite the frustrations, setbacks, and even suffering of the past year, the Lord continued to bring His grace into the lives of His faithful people. The Word of God was not bound but continued to abound and go forth into all the world.
There have been many challenges for our congregation in 2020, and there will no doubt be some in 2021 as well. But the Lord Jesus has not failed to provide us with everything we need to be sustained in this pilgrimage of faith. The Lord goes before us and follows after us. Through His Spirit He brings to faith and He saves. May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ grant all of us another blessed year of His grace!