May 24, 2020
Some of the most intelligent, compassionate, young people in the world call my husband. I’ve been listening to his side of the conversations, as students have questions about pursuing their Masters at the #1 School of Public Health in the World, Johns Hopkins. These are brilliant, brilliant people who are pursuing a degree that will help them, as the saying goes, ‘save lives millions at a time.’
And regardless of what other questions they ask my husband, whatever else they want to know, the #1 question they ask is: Will there be classes on campus this summer, like there always have been? And if not, when?
Do you know the answer to that? Because he doesn’t. No one does. It’s unanswerable at this time, just like the questions of when we will go back to sitting next to each other in the same room for worship. These very very smart people think my husband, who is smart, but not THAT smart, knows the answer to the question we’re all asking in one form or another, and it’s the same question the disciples are asking Jesus: This is all going to turn out okay now, right? Now it will be the way it was, when King David was in charge and everyone feared us and we didn’t have to worry about anything or anyone, right? Israel will be good now, right?
Jesus tells them it’s not for them to know. Which makes me wonder if that’s a gentler way of saying, “It’s unknowable.” And that’s the time we’re in right now.
We know there’s no going back. If we were to open the church doors next Sunday and hold worship there, raise your hand if you’ll be staying home instead. Yes. Because you are smart. Because you know, there’s no going back to how it was. This is what, the 9th? The 10th? Video we’re watching to lead worship? Yeah – those were the olden days. It’s funny, because now as I watch tv shows presumably set in the present, I think – Wow. Right. That’s how things used to be. Wasn’t that quaint.
We thought it was a blizzard, so we stocked up on toilet paper, milk, bread, peanut butter, ice cream. You know, the essentials. Then we looked around and realized – O, this isn’t like a weekend blizzard – This is like winter – And we shifted our understanding of what it would take to get through this season – You might want to go swimming, but if it’s winter, you know you’ll have to wait. You might want to go to the beach and lay on the sand, but if it’s winter, you know you’ll have to wait. You might want to plant tomatoes, but if it’s winter, you know you’ll have to wait.
So we started waiting. And that’s where the disciples end up, too – Jesus tells them to go back to the Upper Room, gather together, hang out, and wait for the Holy Spirit to show up.
But will the Holy Spirit show up soon in our time? Or soon in geological time? We’re past thinking “blizzard” – that is, short term functioning, and we’re obviously in “winter,” that is, several months’ long functioning, but maybe we need to start adjusting to “ice age.” That is, this may be a couple of years.
How do we mourn what we’re never going to have the same way again, and how do we look ahead trusting the Spirit of God will give us the power to make it through? How do we do both? We’re still looking back at what we’ve lost. At the same time, those white-robed men are pointing the disciples to turn their eyes away from where Jesus went, and the past, and turn to the future, when they will be given the power of the Holy Spirit.
And in the meantime, those two white-robed men send the disciples back home, back to the Upper Room where they celebrated Passover and the Last Supper with Jesus, back to the Upper Room where they hid from the authorities.
They may be heading back to the same place, but they are not the same. The whole world is different. They are different. There is little that is the same.
But the disciples remember: They still have each other. They still have prayer. They still have Jesus’ promises. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is back in that room, waiting for them. She was there at the very beginning of this whole adventure, with the birth of Jesus. And she was there at the end of how things were, at the crucifixion. And she was there at the resurrection, when something new started. And now she is here at the beginning of the church, because that’s what is happening in that upper room.
The disciples. The women. Mary. A tiny little congregation, beginning church, beginning faith, beginning hope and waiting in a new way. Just like us.
We’re at the end of one thing and the beginning of another. No one knows what this will look like, or what kind of timing we’re looking at. Over and over we’ll ask, “When will it go back to normal?” and then we’ll be filled with sorrow all over again because it won’t. Not ever. That normal is over. And that is sad.
And, at the same time, we’ll be looking ahead, wondering, what’s next? If we aren’t going back to how things were, what’s coming? And in this time of uncertainty – It’s the same uncertainty the disciples were facing: mourning the past, while the future isn’t here yet – This is what draws them together: The promise they will be given the power of the Holy Spirit. The coming together in faith. The reminder to pray.
And that’s what united them, and that’s what unites us. Okay, sure, we’re not “together” in any way our grandparents would recognize – My father when he was around 15 was the first house on the street to have a tv, and that’s because his father, my grandfather made it from a kit. And now? Now maybe your pastor is showing up on your tv. But we are still together. This is what it looks like right now. You know others are watching this same thing, and caring about the same people you care about, and singing – or humming – or listening – to the same hymn you are. You know others are joining in your prayer, and you are joining their prayer.
And so, we are united, because: We are together. And we trust God’s Holy Spirit will give us the power to make it through this time. Because we will, you know. We are. Each day, each hour, we are making it. How do eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We’re eating this elephant, as much as we may not like how it tastes, one bite at a time. And, we are joining in prayer. This, what you are doing right now, this is what prayer looks like.
And prayer looks like neighbors collecting food for those choosing between rent and dinner. And prayer looks like packing lunches for those people with hungry kids and no paycheck. And prayer looks like taking care of the church property because even though not many people will see it now, they will in the future.
We are people of faith. To quote the children’s book, Green Eggs and Ham: We are people of faith here and there and anywhere. We are people of faith in a house and with a mouse, in a box and with a fox, in a car, or a tree, in a train, in the dark and the rain, with a goat or on a boat.
Because we are God’s children, during peace times and war, during plagues and health. We are God’s children when we’re scared and when we’re not, when we’re happy and when we’re freaked out. Because God’s love doesn’t change. And that is what unites us, and gives us strength to trust the promise of the coming Spirit, and gives us hope to pray with our hands, our hearts, and our voices.
So, we’ve done faith during wars, and during peace, and we’ve done faith before we were parents and after those kids arrived. We’ve done faith single, married, divorced, never married, widowed. We’ve done faith when everyone went to church on Sundays, when it seemed almost no one went to church ever. We’ve done faith with good presidents and bad, our people have done faith with dictators and kings, in slavery and free, in cozy homes and in the wilderness.
Now, now we’ll do faith in a pandemic. No one’s done faith in a pandemic, at least not for a very very long time. Now it’s our turn. And as people of faith, longing for how things were, longing for answers we know we aren’t going to get, standing right here in this odd, weird present moment, we are nothing more and nothing less than God’s beloved children.
And so, we wait. We come together. We pray. The power of love will not just carry us through, but will remind us of what we’re called to do: Love God. Love neighbor. Love self. Love illogical person who insists it’s a hoax. Love frantic person screaming at everyone to wear their masks. Love conspiracy-theorists. Love those who say we’ll never see each other face to face live again. Love the people you live with. Love the people you hate. Maybe that means you’ll just try to hate them a little less today than you did yesterday.
We are a people of God powered by divine love in a house and with a mouse, in a box and with a fox, in a boat and with a goat, in a train and the dark and the rain. We can do this. Because God is with us, and nothing stops the God of love.