One day, life goes on as expected. And then, everything changed.
About a month ago, I am preparing for the Board of Ordained Ministry interviews of candidates for commissioning and ordination; reading pages and pages of their required materials. I am preparing with joy and excitement for my son, Jacob’s, wedding to Ann: rehearsal, dinner, wedding, reception and after party.
The interviews take four days and nights, and then it’s on to the wedding prep and festivities. We were just ahead of the wave of change. Over days and then from hour to hour, changes that disrupt all the mundane things of life begin to roll in. It feels like an ocean wave. Even a relatively gentle one moves the sand under your feet and challenges your balance. A bit of undercurrent or surge and we are knocked off our feet.
At first it is nothing much, but then … everything changed.
The rhythm of everyday and church life become uncertain and then very different. It is unsettling.
We want to know when will we get back to ‘normal?’
In the Gospel of John, chapter 9 through 10:21, Jesus is in Jerusalem for Succoth, and not only heals a blind man, but teaches about spiritual sight, and describes himself in “I AM” terms. Everything is going well. He didn’t keep a low profile in the face of dangers, and all worked out really well.
And then, there’s Jesus’ last trip to Jerusalem for Passover. Everything is going really well then, too. The disciples must have been elated.
Jesus enters the city to accolades.
He challenges the corruption that has invaded His father’s house.
Teaches in the temple precincts.
Wins every argument with those among the religious leadership who have lost the spirit of the law in favor of a personal piety that cares for self and outward appearances. He isn’t intimidated by, but bests the Sadducees, outright collaborators with Rome.
The period we call Holy Week was not just going well, but was a great success until …
After a Passover meal together that leaves the disciples full and sleepy, everything changes.
As unnerved as we are by the disruptions and uncertainties we are experiencing, can you imagine how completely disoriented the disciples were? Despite all that Jesus had told them about what would take place, none of them ever seemed to understand much less believe. Messiahs triumph. They aren’t executed as a criminal and traitor. What happened?
The disciples were not in touch with the realities of life under Roman domination. They failed to understand the fear of religious authorities about what might happen to them and the people if the Romans sensed any form of resistance. The disciples did not anticipate what these leaders were prepared to do to eliminate the threat. They saw only what they wanted to see; a very human tendency.
Maybe our present situation does not have the same weight … which itself should give us a more balanced perspective for today … but it does lead me to think about how much we rely on our own habits of thought, of life and of how things are and will be. And, it makes me think about how we react when we are faced with a situation we cannot control; a situation that disrupts our habits and our expectations.
We didn’t see this pandemic coming even though epidemiologists, virologists and disease control experts have been concerned for some time, and not been silent. Many movies, short stories and novels have been written about global diseases. Think, Stephen King’s novel, The Strand. We seem to have a collective amnesia when it comes to the plagues, pandemic flus, polio, and numerous other outbreaks that enveloped entire continents and sometimes spread around the globe across human history.
The disruption of almost everything hasn’t sent us into hiding like the disciples, but rather, we have been sent to our homes. We aren’t hiding out from Roman soldiers, but seeking protection from something unseen. I imagine that all of us have had a range of reactions including disbelief, anxiety, and outright irritation to being confined. We think that this cannot be real, but it is. There is a sense of shock. Sometimes even our brains seem shut up as life’s routines are suspended. We are engaged in finding a new daily normal.
As we shelter in place to flatten the curve, the repercussions of shutting down all but the essential businesses are also on our minds. Pandemics threaten life in more than one way. We suspect that rocky and painful things still lie ahead. It is only human to be anxious as the weeks pass into months. We are asked to be patient and obedient and especially kind. Even commercials call us to be united and kind, thankful and helpful.
It might be easier to be firm in our resolve if we had a deadline, an end date. The disciples were told that they had three days to wait. Apparently no one remembered that either. As far as they were concerned, this wasn’t a temporary change in their lives. During those three days, their only option seemed to be a return to their former lives; to pick up where they left off … where they left their nets by the Sea of Galilee. After a miraculous catch of fish, a charcoal fire and breakfast will be waiting for them on the shore prepared by the risen Christ. (John 21)
Matthew 28 recounts the resurrection of Jesus. Prominent in this account are the instructions that the women are given, first by the angel and then by Jesus himself: tell the disciples that He is raised and will be going ahead of them to Galilee to meet them. Meet them he does, and with a commission to teach, baptize and make disciples.
Seeing was believing for the disciples. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:28) That’s you and me.
In various ways, Jesus assures the disciples that he will be with them always. The gift of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22, Acts 2) is His and the Father’s guiding presence. That’s for you and me, too. We are not alone.
We aren’t hiding out like the disciples, but we are asked to stay at home and away from one another. We are asked to be obedient for the sake of others as well as ourselves. We are asked to trust that the advice we are getting will get us through. We are trying to brace ourselves for the lasting effects and repercussions; even as we are hopeful that lessons have been learned and there will be changes at all levels and areas of leadership so that we will remember, listen better, act with wisdom and do better. May our prayer be for wisdom in these things, and for us to do our part.
As we ride out this silent storm, be assured that Jesus is in the boat with us. God doesn’t sit in judgment but in solidarity. And, He is in it with us always, and for the long haul.