“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term, her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand, double for all her sins.” Isaiah 40:1-2
As I write this, I am sitting in my office looking out at the sunshine. It’s a chilly day for the spring, but it still lifts my heart as I stretch my arms, draw a deep breath, and remember what it was like just a few short months ago when we were locked down, masked up and, well, sometimes it seemed as if this was just the way things were going to be.
Like the people of Judah at the time of the exile, we have been forced to go “underground”, as we struggled in this pandemic that came sweeping seemingly out of nowhere like the biblical plagues of Egypt, taking lives left and right, filling up our morgues and igniting yet more fighting and division as our already fractured people fought for control of the sinking ship like folks arguing over the placement of the deck chairs of the Titanic, unable to even agree on measures to protect their lives.
So, we reaped the whirlwind of our folly with the deaths of almost a million of our fellow citizens, and many millions more worldwide as this tiny, but deadly virus invaded our people, our economy, eroding our sense of security and exploiting our mutual foolishness and distrust, undeterred by the opinions of pundits and politicians, by our warring ideas about individual rights or any of the other things that we fought so hard over these past few years. Like the plagues of Egypt, it finally began to abate only when we used the tools God gave us, our scientific knowledge, our concern for one another, our striving for life began to overcome our other pre-occupations, when we finally decided to work together for the benefit of all.
The pandemic isn’t over, not by any means, but it has become something we can deal with by getting vaccines, just like we do with measles, rubella and the flu. Not a record to be proud of, perhaps, but still a great cause for rejoicing, as we begin to come out of our spaces as if we were awakening to the end of a nightmare, only to find ourselves back in the world we knew once again and deciding whether we will go back to “normal,” or attempt to create something better, learning and growing from our struggles so that we don’t repeat them.
As Jesus showed us, resurrection is not mere resuscitation, it is the beginning of a new path, an invitation to see and be in the world in entirely new ways. On Good Friday, Jesus was murdered because his message threatened the powers that be and their grip on the reality under which God’s people lived. Murdered, because he spoke truth to power, murdered, because God’s economy is about human life and human thriving and not about the maintenance of power. But God’s love could not be destroyed, even by the power of death itself and so Christ rose on the third day, to empower us to pick up our crosses and follow him in the way, the truth, and the life.
“I came that all might have life and have it abundantly,” Jesus said and that is our call. With the great joyous celebration of the resurrection, comes not only rejoicing at what was, but a recognition that there is so much more to do and so much to be gained by doing it.
Bethany Congregational Church is a noisy place sometimes, full of people with diverse ideas, opinions, politics, ethnic and experiential backgrounds, and yet during this time we have determined to honor each other as disciples anyway and we have come out of this with our community intact, our love for one another stronger than ever.
That is what God is asking of us, that everything we do come from that place of love, that font of living water, empowered by the spirit like the first disciples, and ready to light up the world with our love.
The Rev. Mark Lukens is a pastor at Bethany Congregational Church in East Rockaway.