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Gathering the Fragments

A few days ago, I was reading John’s description of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with only five loaves of bread and two fish. A familiar story, but reading it this time, I was drawn to one sentence, when Jesus tells the disciples what to do with the remaining food, after everyone is fed. He says: “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”

Some versions of the Bible simply say “leftovers,” rather than “fragments left over.” One could argue that they can mean the same thing. But “fragments” also has other connotations.

The word suggests not only the leftover pieces of something…a meal, in this case. “Fragments” can also describe things that have been broken or torn apart. Things that have become separated from one another. We all experience this kind of fragmentation in our lives, one way or another.

When we lost our home to a fire over twenty years ago, it felt as if we had nothing left. Most of our things were gone. Certainly, our sense of comfort and security was lost, too. Every day, we watched the men who were sorting through and cleaning up the rubble, just to see if there was anything at all we could save, no matter how small.

Eventually—miraculously!—we found that not everything had been destroyed. Though they looked badly damaged, some furniture and some antique dishes were salvageable. Even our family videotapes somehow made it through! And gathering up those precious fragments of what had been our lives helped us begin to heal. Bit by bit, our sense of home and family life returned.

“Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”

During the worst of COVID, the whole world experienced fragmentation, as we were separated from one another to avoid contracting or spreading the disease. For most of us, there were no gatherings. No family reunions. No going to the movies or church or sporting events. No funerals.

We did find ways to connect with friends and families. FaceTime. Marco Polo. Zoom. And we were thankful for the technology that allowed us to see—not just hear—one another. But the long, physical separation was difficult. Once it ended, we had to learn how to come together again, wearing our masks and constantly washing our hands, even as the shadow of the pandemic continued to loom over us. Though life had become different, it was such a joy to be able to gather with our people again!

“Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”

The fragmentation of COVID wasn’t only physical. Differing opinions about the nature of the disease caused a kind of mental and emotional separation among us. Even within families, people disagreed (many still do)—sometimes vehemently—about the need for masks and social distancing and vaccinations. Learning to live together, with these vastly different beliefs, is not always easy.

In fact, living together in this country, in spite of difference, has become more and more challenging. Public discourse is now both easier and more divisive, through technology. We have become more vocal about our strongly held convictions, and while that can lead to better understanding, it can also lead to intolerance, anger, and even broken relationships. We’ve had to learn how to come together without alienating one another over our differences—essential if we’re to avoid becoming even more fragmented.

“Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”

Of course, COVID impacted churches all over the country, including First Presbyterian of Valparaiso. But we found ways to continue to be in relationship. We worshipped, conducted meetings, prayed, discussed books and poetry—all online. We were fragmented, yes, separated from one another. But many of us learned to experience fellowship in ways that were new to us. We learned to gather in, despite the physical distance.

Coming back together was both a blessing and a challenge. When some churches began to meet in person, we continued to focus on our streamed services, as our leadership took precautions to insure our health and safety. When we were finally able to return to worshipping in person, some congregations stopped requiring masks during services. But at First Pres, we continued to wear them for a time—again, to protect our most vulnerable members.

As we adjusted to our return—to our new normal as a congregation—there were, of course, disagreements. Some changes have not been comfortable for everyone. Some folks never came back once the COVID restrictions were lifted. But others learned to deal with the challenges we faced, choosing hope over despair, renewed fellowship over isolation. And it now seems that God has honored our gathering back together, by leading us down a clear path towards growing our church once again.

“Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”

The key to our survival…as a people, as families, as a body of believers…is to follow the instructions Jesus gives us. Love God. Love our neighbors as ourselves. And, to the extent that we are able, gather up all of the left over “fragments,” so that nothing, and no one, may be lost.

May it be so.

Lou Ann



Well said. Thank you.

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