Sometime I will have to gather my thoughts about this breathtaking revolution that has been forced on us in the larger context. Mine is one local congregation of people with whom I’ve been for twenty-seven years come July. Things always change, but this one has been especially momentous. Others have had enough to say, but I’ve observed a few little beams of light in the dark. Consider these:
- Churches forced to innovate everything we do. How appropriate that Holy Week would be the big test. And the people are still there. Turns out that little rhyme we did with our hands as a kid had something to it. “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple,” (fingers interlocked and hands folded, index fingers joined in a spire. “Open the door,” and you’d unfold your hands and wiggle your fingers, “and there’s the people.”
- I see a lot of cooperation, humility and mercy down here on the ground level.
- Leaders rise up in the worst of times. Anybody can lead in good times. Only in the crises can you tell the difference.
- Imagine that Christianity in a short while has had to watch the burning down of the Cathedral of Notre Dame and Vatican Square empty except for a blind man singing “Amazing Grace” on Easter Sunday after the Pope stood there alone. But people sang “Amazing Grace” all over the world Sunday.
- People sewing, volunteering, sacrificing and praying harder than usual. Constant cheering and appreciation for our medical workers. I often pray when I go to a hospital (I miss that right now), “Lord, we know that you’ve given us wisdom and medical knowledge so that these doctors, nurses and workers do every day and routinely what Jesus did miraculously.” Healthcare is a daily miracle. We just appreciate it more right now.
- Being away from people we love makes us yearn for their presence and anticipate the first time we can see one another. You can feel it all the way into prayer.
- The earth has been given a sabbath of human activity. Sea turtles in India are flourishing during our quarantine, and people can see the Himalayas from a hundred miles away for the first time in years. We ought to remember what we’ve learned.
And my congregation? What a time this has been. We have gone from a gathered church to a virtual congregation, at least for now. So much has changed. And yet amid the upheaval, so much stays together. And so many new good things have happened. We moved to virtual streaming literally in one day.
We put together a Good Friday service,which involved fifteen of our members (including an original artistic video introduction) gave short talks on the Seven Last Words of Christ. We have a treasure trove of theologically trained people in our church–real theological training. Theologians and artists are a gift in times like these, when shallowness is everywhere around. We are offering the gifts of our congregation.
And there is terrible disruption everywhere we turn. And uncertainty. A good time for a resurrection people. There is terrible suffering, terrible tragedy, sorrow and greed, still with us. But the exceptional and powerful things are good for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
The filter through which the early church understood the story of Jesus was resurrection. The early Christians were convinced that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified by the Romans, had been raised to life by God. The entire story of Jesus, then, is understandable only in reverse. By viewing it through the conviction born on Easter, we understand the whole meaning of his life, his teachings, and even his death.
After Easter is a way to think about the present moment, too. Possibilities are here with us, new ones, that given our own resistance we might have avoided forever. But now we might have courage. Resurrection in the Christian faith is a principle of hope and courage in the face of death and decay. Now, from this new vantage point, we are on the lookout for hope to give the world around us. The doors were opened, but lo and behold, there are the people, the ones who were part of us, but all the others God loves, too. This is a moment for hope and help and love for all people.