It’s now July. We are entering our fourth month of worshipping at a distance, making pastoral visits by phone, worrying about the wellbeing of our members, families, and friends, and there is not a clear end in sight. In fact, the infection rate in our state is growing geometrically. This means that we will be apart longer. Because we are part of the larger community, we all must be compassionate citizens. We must stay home as much as possible, always wear a mask in public, practice good hand hygiene, do not sing in public, and stay focused on the greater good. We all are tired of being cooped in our homes. We all are lonely for our friends and family. We all are concerned about the economy and how we will make ends meet. But COVID 19 is a deadly disease, and we must take this mission of service to our neighbors seriously.
Somehow this disease and the resulting pandemic have become entangled in evangelical and political bloviating. Viruses are not personal. They do not care about our religious faith or political party. Their purpose is to infect and multiply. We do not yet have a vaccination for this virus, but we do know ways to slow rapid infection rates, which in turn allow for our healthcare system to safely accommodate those who are sick.
We are not the first to suffer from a pandemic. We will make it through. (If you want to wander down an interesting rabbit hole of information about the 10 plagues that were visited upon the Egyptians, you might like visiting this site.) We will make it through this time even as we are lonely, afraid, worried, anxious, bored, angry, and/or confused. Our routines have been interrupted, but the mighty power of God’s creative force has not. Babies are being born, birds are singing, snails continue to plague my lettuce, new conversations about racial justice are emerging, and people are experiencing the love of Christ through service to others.
Those who canonized the Bible were wise. They included writings that incorporated the whole of the human condition, not just the happy or satisfied times. The Book of Lamentations is just that, an entire book of mournful cries. During this confusing time of pandemic-required social distancing, we can become overwhelmed with our personal feelings. If you find yourself in this spot, reach out to someone. Call or send an email. Don’t be concerned about saying that you are lonely or sick of all this or frightened or….you fill in the adjective. More than likely the person on the other end has had these same feelings. Do something kind for someone…write a letter (a real letter with a stamp and everything!), send an unexpected gift, write a prayer or a poem for someone. Most of the world’s great museums have made their collections available on their websites or on Instagram. Roaming through these collections never fails to inspire me. LAUGH….watch a funny movie, read a funny book, tell funny stories. Remember, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov.17:22). The Orthodox Church calls the Monday after Easter Risus Paschalis…The Easter Laugh…God’s final joke on the devil!
We will make it through this time, and we will be changed by this time. I believe that we will be inspired to dream grand and bold dreams. That we will be committed to a deeper understanding of our theology and history so we can better be the church God calls us to be. Remember, our congregational family built our grand building as a testament to the beauty of God after they suffered the pandemic of 1918-1919. What will we be inspired to create?
In last night’s book group we read, “…The church does not have a mission. Rather, God’s mission has a church…..Calling people to Christ was not all that God was up to. Combating racism, working for peace, seeking justice in all its forms were also mission. The church was the community of Christ working on behalf of the mission of God…..The message we speak has to be put into action. The church must model its own words. Being reconcilers in the name of Jesus can be the identity Disciples project to the world. Thus, mission is not something we decide to do; mission is an essential expression of the people we are and are seeking to become. Mission and identity. Identity and mission….Two parts of a whole life committed to putting God first.” (Disciples Who We are and What Holds us Together; Kinnamon and Linn, pp.78-79)
So, what does putting God first in this time of pandemic mean for us? Well, it means that we take all the necessary precautions to slow the spread of this awful disease. It means that we believe God is with us and will prevail even when we feel overwhelmed or afraid. It means that we are mature Christians who know that others may be suffering more than we are, and we must reach out in whatever manner we can. It means we continue to support the church even as we meet separately. It means that we must remember that Jesus taught us God is on the side of life, of joy, of compassion, of creativity, of hope.
In the face of the current bad news of rising infection and death rates, I invite all of you to join with me in a project for the church. In Biblical numerology, the number 7 symbolizes perfection. To that end, I ask that every day at 7 we all pause and say a prayer for one another and then think of something that makes you laugh. Let’s practice daily prayer for one another as a life affirming spiritual discipline. And let us laugh as a reminder that no form of evil or despair will ever prevail.