One of the things that I’ve heard over the past year has been this longing for the day “…when we open back up and things get back to normal.” Like all of us, I miss the ability to gather together to worship God and experience one another’s gifts. The separated life that we’ve been living falls outside of what most of us have known as church life throughout the years, and the longing to be together is strong.
This morning I joined with other pastors online for our monthly conversation about life and ministry, and one of the questions that we talked about was “When will ‘when‘ happen?” Everyone seems to be longing for the “when“, but what are the markers we should draw on to know that we have arrived at the time beyond the pandemic? Is it when our city leaders remove all restrictions on gathering? Is it when the majority of our folks are vaccinated? Will there ever be a single point in time that “when” arrives?
It is certainly possible that there will not be a single marker to suggest a “return to normal.” One reason is that the old normal, what we experienced in the years before the pandemic, will never return. We have all experienced an event that will ever be before us. As of today, 500,000 people have died in the United States alone from the COVID disease. And, even without COVID, here at City Road Chapel, we have seen several beloved leaders in our church pass to life eternal. The world that we will come back to will never be the same, and we are returning to a new normal — a new world in which we have no choice but to adapt and think in new ways.
At one point, I suggested that Easter this year (April 4) might be one marker of this new beginning. While we won’t fully be through the epidemic, in our church many will be vaccinated at that point. Easter, the traditional celebration of resurrection in our tradition, can represent a moment in which we are able to move from the old into the new. It’s a day when our orientation changes from the death of our Savior to life abundant.
You know, Jesus was not the same man he was before his resurrection. He had scars. He had experienced death. And, in his triumph, he represented the fullness of God in a new way. The old way of being had been transformed into a new covenant that was open to all people. The Easter event that we celebrate was a marker of something new, and likewise, it can be a marked today to say that we are moving on from the old ways into a new way of being church together.
I don’t fully know what the new will be . . . but either we embrace it and be transformed, or we die under the weight of our refusal to be reborn.
There is an image from ancient mythology of the phoenix rising from the ashes, an image adopted by the early church fathers to describe resurrection. The church’s ability to live on through thousands of years has been a story of resurrection . . . again, and again, and again. City Road Chapel’s own story includes times of abundance and times of scarcity; days when we were on the edge of survival and days of abundant blessings. Our ability to carry out that story will be found in our ability to rise from the ashes into a new creation that fully reflects the love of God to the world.
There are exciting days ahead. Get ready, for the “when” will soon be here.
Grace and peace to you all!