Yesterday I was visiting by zoom with the staff and at some point one of us said, “you know before Covid . . .” and went on with the sentence and point they were making. I didn’t really notice at the time, but that phrase made its way to someplace in my brain that lodged and would not be moved. It would come back intermittently in the course of a many meetings day without being requested. No one else seemed to hear it as conversations were had about details around preparing for the time when we can worship in-person again. Know that these are some of the details we are preparing. Weird looking machines being ordered to mist the sanctuary with anti-bacterial spray, how to record attendance for contract tracing, the ratio of cloth-masks and disposable masks, independent juice/wafer kits for communion, how to actually have church withOUT donuts and if that’s even possible, how to set-up the sanctuary for appropriate social-distancing, where the very loud and highly verbally projecting preacher needs to stand to preach to keep people as far away as Ridgeview Rd. safe from the aerosol droplets, and how to order enough hand sanitizing stations to add to what we already have, to have enough. You know, just light conversation amongst co-workers, and that phrase would keep popping into my head, “you know before Covid”.
Finally in a break, I simply attended to it. I stopped everything else . . . mostly, spinning in my head and sat with it awhile. I didn’t know if it was friend or foe, that phrase, but I knew that on the 6th of March, the date of Grace Extravaganza, that phrase was not part of our language. On the 8th of March, the last time we had in-person worship at Grace, that phrase had not yet been said in my hearing. Somewhere in the last 3 months and/or 30 kajillion years, that phrase, “you know before Covid” has become a part of our regular conversation pattern. For some reason yesterday it caught me.
I’ve been writing my blogs on Tuesdays because Wednesdays are so packed, but it didn’t happen yesterday. Too much zooming, too many practical details, too much planning in the midst of too much unknown in relation to fluid and flying around dates for phases and re-openings, and .5’s instead of 2’s and 3’s, and gatherings under 45 instead of less than 10 or 30 or 90. And three more states where churches met in person, two following suggested protective practices and one not, and outbreaks in all three after in-person worship. Were they singing? That’s what I wanted to know. Everyone has said that singing and projected speech (sermon anyone?) are the worst for infected aerosol droplets travelling 20-28 ft. instead of 6, and hanging in the air 12-15 mins. instead of a couple. Were they singing? That was my obsession. They can’t sing together, I kept saying to myself, they have to realize that they just can’t sing together and the pastor needs to preach from underneath the cross and behind the big communion tables and not have people sit in the front rows. There has to be more than 30 ft. between preacher and preached to, and the congregation cannot engage in singing – even “Amazing Grace”! They can’t sing “Amazing Grace” together, do they know they can’t even sing “Amazing Grace” together, even if they have it memorized and don’t have to touch the hymnals?
“You know before Covid” I kept hearing in my head. No, no, no – there is no longer before Covid. There won’t be another before Covid time in our generation. If we keep referring back to before Covid we will get lost in the trees and never find our way through the forest.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Aaaah, is there a more poignant question in all the scriptures for right now? “How can we know the way?” indeed Thomas. And Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” John 14:1-6a, NRSV.
Time segments have been turned on their sides and heads in these never-before-lived-into-days. March and April feel like they lasted at least two years, and today my calendar says May 20, and I wonder where the first three weeks of this month have gone because this weekend is Memorial Day and it feels like we haven’t really had Easter. I mean we did, I don’t doubt the resurrection, but our celebration of it seems to exist in a thought bubble of some sort.
“You know, before Covid,” simply won’t go away. It is an oddly surreal reference point I think. Saying it gives us a place that feels solid in a space and time continuum that doesn’t have much that is. It’s both helpful and a complex temptation at the same time – it’s always been the challenge of history. We often either romanticize it to the point that nothing in the present is good, or we deny it to the point of refusing to believe the things that don’t fit in our comfort zones, like the Holocaust, or slavery that leads yet to an intermittently unmitigated and too often deathly racism. The difficult part right now is, where do we fit? Or as Thomas so aptly put it, “Lord, how can we know the way?” And you know what that tells us? Our brothers and sisters in all of history have experienced wildernesses not unlike this, and have asked the question of their faith, and have received answers whether they chose to trust them or not.
The disciples walking with Jesus toward Jerusalem for the last time in this part of John’s gospel, are trying to make sense of the reality Jesus is giving them. He is going to leave them and their minds cannot comprehend the starkness of his death. And the good news is that it doesn’t stop Jesus from again, and again, and again reassuring them that they have not been, are not now, and will not even in his death, be left alone without guidance and resources, even when they cannot see clearly the way ahead from where they stand in the present moment.
That has not changed. In everything else that has been turned on its side and upside down, the promise of Jesus has not changed. We have not been left alone without guidance and resources. The question for us as it is for every generation of the faithful, are we willing to trust that Word, that faithful promise that is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, our way, our truth, and our life?
“You know before Covid” and “you know, during Covid” are where we are walking right now. It doesn’t mean we will always be here, it does mean that we can accept it as a current reality and work from here into the unknowns of the future which God envisions and invites. Along the way we can do great things, or, as Mother Theresa was want to say, “we can do small things with great love,” and perhaps that’s exactly the direction we need to keep walking through the trees til we make our way to the edge of the forest where together we will see more clearly.
I sang “Amazing Grace” to myself as I walked through the parking lot to my car last night, and then walked back in to turn off a light I had forgotten, and then walked back out to my car. It not only allowed for me to get more steps in, but it gave me time to get to the last verse . . . “When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we’d first begun.” This is but a season, a chapter in time, a part of a journey that has gone before and will continue long after our time here is done. With that perspective we keep moving, we keep serving, we keep loving, and we keep simply living trusting we are God’s beloved people.
Perhaps you saw this version of “Amazing Grace” that Andrea Bocelli recorded and put out at Easter this year. The film clips of the major cities of the world without traffic or dense populations on the streets is striking. There is a peacefulness to it – I hope it is that gift for you today.