A New Normal

+ A sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on April 19, 2020 +

Texts: John 20:19-31

Video: LINK

“I just can’t wait for things to go back to normal.”
It’s a phrase I keep catching myself thinking or saying out loud.
Has anyone else?
This is now our sixth week of online worship.
In these past weeks, the world has transformed around us.
We’ve either been stuck at home or have been deemed essential employees and find ourselves traveling down eerily quiet roads.
Simple errands like grocery shopping has been utterly changed.
Many have lost their jobs or seen their retirements accounts crash.
And you can’t watch the news without being bombarded with the staggering numbers of new infections and deaths.
Most, if not all of us, are feeling alone and isolated, cut off from family and friends.
So it makes sense that we can’t wait for all of this to finally end, that we want to get back to normal.

But many have wondered if things will ever be “normal” again.
Some have said that this COVID-19 pandemic will define the next era of life in the ways that September 11, 2001 or the fall of the Berlin Wall did in their times.
That this virus will forever change our world and usher in a new normal.
Because for all of the pain and suffering this coronavirus has caused, all the deaths and anxiety, all the changes and adaptations, this crisis has revealed so much about our society, hasn’t it?
Some pastors have suggested that this may be the great apocalypse of our time—not as in the end of the world, as that word “apocalypse” has come to suggest, but what the Greek really means: an unveiling. An illumination of what is happening around us.
This pandemic has exposed some of the inequalities in our systems and societies that may have gone unnoticed by us or which we have taken for granted.
Like how those in white-collar jobs can suddenly work from home, but those making minimum wage are either laid off or suddenly deemed essential and forced to risk their lives to make ours possible.
Or how the whims of the stock market can devastate families’ futures and how some politicians are willing to sacrifice human lives on the altar of the economy.
Or how business and productivity have become more important to us than true happiness or real human connection.
Or how a disproportionate number of deaths have been among communities of color because of inequitable living conditions or unequal access to medical care.
Or how our social safety nets and healthcare systems have been shredded in the name of corporate greed or warmongering.
This virus has shown us the failings of our society and exposed why we need to change.
IMG_7B5AA4C34C04-1Or in the words of author Sonya Renee Taylor,“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was never normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”

It makes me think of our old friend, Thomas.
We hear this story every year on the second Sunday of Easter.
Even this year that seems a little different than normal, even as some of the fear and gloom of Lent still seeps into our Easter season.
Even so, we still hear about how after the resurrected Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene at the garden tomb, he comes to his disciples who were locked in their house, captivated by fear.
In the midst of their fear, Christ appears and offers them peace and breathes the Holy Spirit upon all of them.
All of them except Thomas.
Thomas wasn’t there.

We don’t know where he was and Saint John doesn’t tell us.
But maybe Thomas was just trying to move on.
Maybe after seeing his friend and teacher tortured and crucified on Friday, after wallowing in grief on Saturday, he woke up that Sunday morning and needed to take a walk—to finally leave his house and start piecing his life back together.
Maybe he was fed up with the fear and lamenting and was just trying to get back to normal.
Maybe that’s why the news his fellow disciples excitedly tell him that they had seen the Lord, it just seems too incredible for him to believe.

LeCompte, Rowan and Irene LeCompte. Christ shows himself to Thomas, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54879

But when Thomas sees Christ with his own eyes, he realizes that nothing will ever be normal again.
Because how can anything be normal now that people can rise again from the dead?
Thomas realizes that in his resurrection, Christ has shattered the old normal and inaugurated a new age in which God’s love triumphs over hatred and new life has destroyed death.
So he makes that stunning confession: “My Lord and my God!”
He opens himself to the new reality, this new normal that is so much greater than he could have previously imagined in which God is constantly recreating the whole creation to better reflect God’s love, in which God is working within and among us to bring all people into the new life of Christ’s resurrection.

And yet, even this new normal bears the marks of the old one, doesn’t it?
Even this Easter still bears the marks of Good Friday.
Even Christ’s resurrected body retains the wounds of his crucifixion, the holes in his hands and his side.
They serve as a reminder that it was a gruesome death and a painful reality that helped inaugurate this new reality.
That it was out of a broken and corrupted system that God brought forth new and abundant resurrection life.

Duccio, di Buoninsegna, d. 1319. The Incredulity of Thomas, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54254

In many ways, I envy Thomas.
Especially this year I envy him.
I wish I could physically touch the resurrected Jesus, to hold onto my Lord and my God, to see with my own eyes the promise of Easter and know without any doubt that we are living in a new normal.
But Jesus invites us to still be like Thomas, to stand with him and glimpse this new reality.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Blessed are those who have not touched his resurrected body and yet still trust in the new life of his resurrection, who long to live into the new normal Christ heralds.
That’s you and me, my friends.
That’s those who are still working to allow all people experience the new life of Christ’s resurrection.
That’s anyone who is still partnering with God in recreating the whole creation until it fully reflects God’s love.

So while it may be easy for us to long for things to go back to normal, for everything to be like it was just a couple months ago, perhaps that is not the right goal.
Perhaps instead we should be asking ourselves what this new normal will look like and how we can be a part of it.
How the wounds of COVID-19 will make us transform the world, force us to recreate our society, so it can be more equitable and just.
How we can take the pain and loss and devastation that’s only been exacerbated by a broken and corrupted system and then partner with God to bring hope and healing and new life.
How we can use this apocalypse, this unveiling, to fashion a new garment that fits all humanity and the whole creation.
To continue working until our new normal is not only marred with the marks of coronavirus but is emblazoned with the glory of Christ’s resurrection.

Jesus appears to Thomas - John 20:24-29
JESUS MAFA. Jesus appears to Thomas, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48302

We know that these are difficult times to live in.
We know that these are times that test our faith and our resiliency.
But as we are locked in our homes today, as fear and the threat of death surrounds us, we are joined this day and everyday by the crucified, wounded, and yet risen Christ who comes to offer us peace and the promise of the resurrected life.
And through our tears, through our fears, through our doubts and hesitations, we can boldly confess our defiant trust in this resurrection life as with Thomas we proclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

One thought on “A New Normal

  1. Pingback: Breath | Paul On Grace

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