Call it the year of Corona virus.
A month ago, on March 1, we were going about our lives and daily routines, enduring one more snowstorm. It was life in New England, and as Congregationalists, we like it that way–stable, predictable, knowing what was is what will be, and we celebrate God and our community of faith in the ordinary way, right?
But what is ordinary has been severely disrupted and will never be the same again. We have been told by the public health authorities to stay home unless we absolutely need to go out for food or medicine. Schools are closed. Businesses are closed. So what do we do? For now, we stay safe and listen to our public health experts. We need to stop the spread of a virus that has no vaccine and is dangerous to older folks and those with compromised immune systems or underlying medical conditions. The young and healthy should also heed this advice, because unless we all heed it, we put loved and beloved members of our families and communities at risk for serious illness or death.
It’s hard to know when things will start up again, and when they do, what the “new normal” will mean. Our faith should give us some guidance here. Jesus had spent about three years with the disciples teaching and healing the people, and they knew all they had to know to do his work. But they didn’t feel empowered while he was around. It was only after he died and was raised that things got real. What happened in those days after the crucifixion? The disciples were rocked back on their heels; they hid, not knowing what to do, and they flirted with just going back to their prior occupations and forgetting all that had happened to them. What would be their “new normal”?
And then Jesus appeared. He didn’t say it would be easy. He didn’t promise they would not have to struggle in talking to people about God’s love and his teachings. He didn’t promise days where they weren’t exhausted. What he did say is, “My joy I give you, my peace I leave you, that no one can take it from you…I am with you until the end of the age.” God promises to be with us, to strengthen us, to help us keep bound together when the world says we are better being six feet apart (now called “social distancing”). God is present in the suffering of those affected by the virus, at the side of the doctors who help the sick, and with all of us who watch the world respond in ways we don’t understand.
What can we do? Pray. Call someone you have NOT talked to in a while and say, “I just wanted to check in with you”. It may feel weird at first, but those new ways of connecting, and that reaching out, is the beginning of God’s gracious new Kingdom that binds us together, builds us up, and prepares us for when we can be together again. That kind of connecting helps others know that we take God’s promises of compassion, mercy, kindness and love seriously in times of crisis. And that kind of connecting helps the Spirit in each of our hearts sustain us through these difficult days. Days where our Lenten promise of “repent”, which means “turn around”, helps us turn to new directions of behavior.
A new normal. But one for which God has prepared us. Keep safe, keep strong, keep connected, and most of all, pray for God’s grace and strength for each and all of us.