written by Laura Eberly
Happy Easter. We find ourselves once more at the beginning of the After. This Easter, we are living in – and will forever live in – The Time After COVID19.
Historic change is happening. I imagine we will remember this pivotal time like we remember September 11 or when Kennedy was killed, as turning points from which things will never return to the way they were before. We will definitely remember where we were. Henceforth, we will divide our histories – personal, political, and social – into the Time Before and the Time After.
Many of us ache already for the Time Before – for a return to normal – even as we begin to live the After. And we have no idea yet – not really – what After will mean.
Easter 2’s Gospel (John 20:19-31) happens on the evening of Easter Sunday. “When it was evening on THAT day, the first day of the week.”
It is the end of The Day When Everything Changed. The day that marks the turning point between everything the disciples thought they knew and everything that came to be. The day when God was dead and then rose to live again. It defines the whole of Christian faith and practice throughout the millennia to come.
There was before Easter. Before the resurrection. And there was After.
On that first Easter, the disciples know that everything has changed forever. But they have no idea what that will mean. They don’t know what those changes would look like. And they definitely don’t know how to meet After face-to-face. Their normal way of being is dangerous, and even if it weren’t, it doesn’t make sense anymore. They have followed their leader to Jerusalem, left everything to do so – their families, their careers – and now it has all been taken away, their plans laid waste, their Beloved cruelly slain. The community is brought to its knees by grief and loss, not only of what was, but loss of the hope of what might be.
They are hunkered down, behind locked doors, waiting. They are isolated, hiding. And they are afraid that if they leave they will die.
Friday, the Bay Area marked one month of sheltering in place. Everything has changed, just changed, and we don’t know what’s next or how to meet it. The Time Before feels far away and the Time After feels beyond our grasp, impossible to imagine, let alone hasten into being. Even as we try so desperately to protect ourselves and one another, the crisis unfolds around us. And so many things that were impossible to even imagine a few months ago have happened.
Hundreds of thousands have died. Millions are out of work. Millions more have quarantined ourselves in our own homes, giving up plans, the company of friends, celebrations of birthdays and weddings and graduations and even funerals. Libraries and soccer fields and coffee shops. The little things that make a life.
All our dreams, everything we expected and everything we planned so carefully for. So much has been washed away.
But other impossible things have happened too. Miraculous things. Signs of life overcoming old ways of death. The people who pick and pack and truck our food are understood to be essential. People are giving away their stimulus checks to make sure the unemployed can eat. San Francisco has found housing for homeless people in the newly empty hotels. Jails are setting people free. Grocery stores have special hours for elders and people wait patiently in line. More of us are baking bread and planting seeds, transforming our relationships with our bodies and the earth. Neighbors are connecting, in many places for the first time.
Arundhati Roy is an Indian writer and activist, and she wrote a piece recently called The Pandemic is a Portal. She writes, “…coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.
She continues, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
“We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
Back in Jerusalem, two thousand years ago, the disciples were hiding. Afraid (with good reason). Unsure how to walk into this new world after the resurrection, trying, in Roy’s words, “to stitch their future to their past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture.” Wishing for a return to normal.
But God shows up to show them a new way. In a wounded body that has been changed forever and doesn’t pretend otherwise. Standing in the midst of them, Jesus tells them to step through into Easter lightly, commissioned by God, empowered by the Spirit, forgiving sins as they go.
It turns out they don’t really get it. Thomas gets a bad rap here, but after all – it’s the rest of the disciples who have failed their first mission of evangelism and are back in their locked room a week later. So much for spreading the good news. So Jesus shows up again. A second time, even for just one who did not understand.
Everything hinges on these moments. The disciples’ faith is restored, and their response, their ability to listen and believe and then eventually to go and do as Jesus has told them is the reason any of us are here worshipping Christ today.
Isolated and grieving and mortally afraid, we cannot imagine the resurrection or the portal to a new, just world by ourselves. Fortunately, our stories promise: we do not have to. God shows up in our grief, our mess, even when we try to lock ourselves safely away, to restore our faith, and to show us the way into After, into Easter, into Life.
The Shelter in Place order might be lifted soon. I heard Bay Area officials are considering May 4th, and honestly? My first reaction was, “I’m not ready.” I haven’t figured it all out yet, I haven’t learned all the transformative lessons this time was supposed to teach me, haven’t figured out how to keep my family and my loved ones safe or how to get back to the way things were.
Jesus patiently reminds me none of that matters. We are not called to get back to normal but into an entirely new life. Normal is death dealing and destructive and wielding our power and might to wage war throughout the world and store up goods for ourselves as if there were no God and no heaven, rather than to feed the hungry and heal the sick in our own communities. The desire for that normal comes from our grief, our very real fears. But we cannot stay in our locked rooms forever, nor can we go back. As the Rev. Lynice Pinkard once said, “The life for which you have been so carefully prepared is being taken away from you by the grace of God. Thanks be.”
Jesus says to all our fears, “Peace. I am sending you as God sent me.” He commissions us to drop what we knew, repent of the normal that we now know is not inevitable, and to follow him. Leave your nets again. Go where God calls.
So who is God calling the Church to be differently, newly, in this Easter, in the Time After COVID19?
Laura Eberly is a postulant to the vocational diaconate, formed and nominated in Chicago, IL and now living in Oakland, CA with her wife Jane Thomason, two housemates, one cat and a quarantine-inspired sourdough starter named Tamagotchi. Curiosity and the conviction that all struggles for collective liberation are bound up in one another have led her to serve as a community organizer, facilitator, social worker, and currently as a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.