by The Reverend Canon Martha Tartanic
Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:20-21)
As we often say, we need to know the bad news before we can really hear the Good News. I don’t have to spend a lot of time regaling you with a recap of all of the bad news. We know, day by day, hour by hour, that the corona virus has been changing our physical, emotional, spiritual, relational and financial landscapes.
Given all of the bad news, our ears should be particularly pricked, ready to be attentive to that Good News in a renewed and intentional way. Here are some of the holy and life-giving things I see unfolding across this tumultuous landscape:
Although stress and anxiety can bring out the worst in people, it can also bring out the best. Every day, I witness countless examples of how our community is willing to show up for one another, how those who are able are stepping up to get groceries for those stuck at home, how friendship and concern is being extended, and how we are finding ways of strengthening the bonds of community, even as person-to-person contact is being limited.
I hear people expressing new levels of gratitude. All of us have to worry about the economy, and too many of our households are worried about very significant impacts to financial well-being because of this crisis. We worry about getting sick. We worry about our loved ones getting sick. We worry about people living in shelters and on the streets.
And yet, we are also able to see our blessings with newly opened eyes. One person told me that she uses her times of frequent handwashing to say prayers of thanksgiving for her family and friends, for access to clean water and social supports, and for the many people working on the front lines of our health care system to respond to this crisis.
We do have so many people in our community who are continuing to work because the well-being of all of us depends on them. We have nurses and doctors, truck drivers and plumbers, PSWs, and so many others in our midst who continue to show up for the sake of others. We have volunteers across our programs who are here to make sure the hungry are fed and those in peril are helped. We have those who are figuring out how to work from home. And we have people who must obey, to the strictest level possible, the call to isolation, and whose willingness to follow these protocols is protecting lives.
At the heart of our faith is Jesus’ model of sacrificial love. What we need to remember is that the willingness of all of us to make sure that we are following the public health measures put in place is also part of our loving response. We all share in the responsibility of trying to keep our whole community safe.
The church is most definitely not closed! The church isn’t our building, and it’s not dependent on our ability to gather in our building. Our church is us. Wherever we are, and no matter what measures are put in place, our identity as church continues. We may just need to find other ways of showing up for each other and connecting as a community to God’s love.
As important as all of these signs of goodness are, they aren’t what we mean when we’re talking about Good News. Good News is God’s initiative and God’s gift. We can certainly participate in how God’s goodness and love is made known, but our hope is founded first and foremost in God’s activity, not our own. I am reminded of the Easter evening account in the Gospel according to John. The disciples are locked away in the Upper Room because they are terrified of what could happen to them as followers of a recently executed criminal of the State. Jesus shows up in the middle of their fearful gathering and says “Peace be with you.” He breathes on them. He gifts them with the Holy Spirit. They will need that gift because Jesus also commissions them to “be sent” out into the world, to share in the same work which God had anointed Jesus to do. He indicates that this work will centre around forgiveness. Forgiveness, most broadly, is about mending broken relationships, it is about allowing our lives to brought back to God.
This is the Good News. Jesus isn’t deterred by our locked rooms and fearful hearts. Jesus seeks us out in our locked rooms and speaks right into our fearful hearts with God’s gift of peace. Jesus commissions us, knowing that wherever we go, whatever we do—OR especially right now, wherever we can’t go, and whatever we are not able to do—the thing that we offer to the world is God’s love. Sometimes that means that we can offer God’s love in our actions of service. Sometimes that means that we offer God’s love simply by being willing to be held in God’s love and to receive God’s love through the loving service of others.
With that Good News promised to us again, we can face this anxious landscape. We can find that there are blessings enough to make sure that all are cared for in these days ahead. We can be guided by wisdom and love, not fear. We can figure out how to raise our Easter Alleluia and to share in the risen life of Jesus once again, even if the forms our church takes need to adapt. We can pray: for God to heal us, for God to end the suffering this pandemic is causing, for God to redeem us. We can trust that God’s healing and redeeming are guaranteed, whatever the days ahead may hold.