Even though we resumed in-person worship over a year ago, because of the concerns of our church community, and out of an abundance of caution and care for the more vulnerable among us, our church leadership elected to make wearing masks mandatory until about a month ago.
I get that not everyone was quite ready to come back to worship maskless, and there were others who had been advocating for it sooner, but in the end, we were finally able to safely allow those who wished to shed their masks to do so.
After over a year of only seeing people with their masks on, I realized something once we started worshipping without them...
There were several people who had started attending over the past several months, and I had never seen their faces.
Also, there were more than a few church members who I don't regularly see outside of Sunday mornings, who had been coming to in-person worship pretty consistently, but I wasn't sure who they were.
It's been a pure joy being able to look out into the congregation on Sunday mornings and be able to see facial expressions, glimpse a smile, see people laugh, and hear everyone sing without sounding muffled.
I read somewhere recently that small children, who have spent the last two years in a mask-filled world, are having to learn the meaning of facial expressions all over again as they encounter more and more people who are maskless.
So much of how we choose to move and be in the world around us depends on what we read on one another's faces.
Listen, I have written here at least a couple of times over the past two years about the symbolism of masks, and how we often put on emotional and spiritual masks to cover our true feelings, or to present a false self to the world.
It was an easy illustration to make, considering our circumstances. But I feel like there's more to be said as we begin to remove our physical masks in more and more settings.
Some time ago, I read this amazing quote from the great author James Baldwin, who wrote:
Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without, and know that we cannot live within.
I feel like so many of us have been hiding behind masks that we've constructed to keep us safe, to hide our true selves and true feelings from the world because we are afraid of what might happen if we are truly seen.
It's not surprising, really. We've been living with uncertainty for some time, and our current culture doesn't lend itself to a great deal of acceptance and tolerance lately.
But there's a longing within each of us to be seen, to be known. We know that we can't keep on hiding forever, despite the trepidation we might feel to reveal who we really are.
In the end, it is love that enables us to take off our masks---the love of God for us, which is often expressed by God through others.
We can feel the love of God when someone speaks a knowing word to us when our own vulnerability has become too much for us to bear.
We can feel the love of God through the kindness of strangers, who see us sometimes more clearly than even our closest friend or loved one.
We can feel the love of God when we realize that there are people who know what we look like behind our masks, and who love us fiercely no matter what.
Don't be afraid to show yourself to the world. God's love is more than enough to overcome whatever fear you might have, and there are no imperfections too difficult for God's grace to cover.
May it be so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.