We are connected, you and I, to every other person on the planet, and to the planet itself. If a global pandemic does not awaken us to this truth, nothing will. By the time this pandemic is over, everyone will be touched by it. Most will have lost a loved one to the virus. Many will have lived through having had it. All of our lives will be different from this time forward. Grief is now a universal and simultaneous experience. We are all grieving something. Perhaps the loss of freedom to come and go as we choose. Maybe the loss of employment. Maybe the loss of in-person socializing. Maybe the loss of a loved one. Maybe the heaviness of universal grief weighs on you. These are hard days for all of us. No one is exempt.
If it takes a pandemic to recognize the unity of humanity and creation, what will it take for us to sustain this awareness when we return to healthier days? We are united in sickness and grief. Can we ever be united in health and wholeness? Can we extend the small acts of kindness we offer to one another to those we do not know? If the pandemic has woken us up to the depth of injustice, will a return to health enable us to heal what is broken in systems of justice, education, healthcare, housing, and even religious institutions? I don’t know. I would like to think that the answer is yes, particularly when talking about churches.
Jesus’ prayer for his followers then is his prayer for his followers now – oneness. We are to be one with each other just as Jesus is one with God. That’s intense, isn’t it? However, our society loves kyriarchy. We are conditioned from an early age to believe certain things whether they are true or not. We are taught that some people are better than others even though there is no biblical evidence of this. We are taught that some jobs are more valuable than others simply because they pay more. We are conditioned to “lord it over” someone from the time we are very little. Men are better than women. Binary is better than diversity. White is better than Black. Gay is better than straight. Able is better than disabled. Healthy is better than sick. Perceived wholeness is better than visible brokenness. Skinny is better than fat. And on down the list. None of these things are true and, yet, we turn ourselves inside out and upside down trying to comply with these social norms. To what end?
COVID-19 has highlighted some shortfalls, some sins, some awful systemic flaws in our society that are built on kyriarchy. Even the church in some, if not all of its forms, will tell us that the wealthy are more blessed than the poor. So when those who live in poverty and those who experience homelessness are dying at a higher rate than others during this pandemic, we are inclined to blame the victims. We want to say that People of Color, particularly Black people, are dying from this virus because of the choices they have made. This, my friends, is kyriarchy in general and racism specifically. We have participated in a culture that preferences white over black (and all other POC), conservative Christian over all other religious identities, cis males over all other gender identities and expressions, perceived mental and physical wellness over visible illness or disability in body, mind, or spirit, and more culturally determined preferences as well. Where is the oneness Jesus desires for those who follow him? Where is the oneness with ourselves, our neighbors, and Creation, let alone with God?
If we learn anything from this pandemic, may it be that we are all connected. When we do not embrace this connectedness, people die and the planet is damaged. We have kept God waiting long enough, don’t you think? Now would be an excellent time to seek to strengthen our relationships, to built the unity God desires for us. Yes, it is possible to read scripture in a way that says, “unless you are like me, then you are outside of God’s saving love.” This reading is inconsistent with Jesus’ desire for oneness among his followers, oneness built on and consisting of Divine Love. Maybe the pandemic can remind us that anything that is not Love is not from God. And when we remember this, we are better equipped to reach out to those we have perceived to be lower than us on the ladder of privilege (and socially constructed preference) and endeavor to raise them up until there is no more “us and them.”
Now is a good time to put on your mask, even if you don’t think you need it, to show how much you value your neighbors. Then stay six feet from anyone you are not living with (unless your job requires something different) and greet all your neighbors with a friendly wave and “hello.” And while we are at it, keep worshiping online. It is more inclusive, more loving than any way we can worship right now. There’s no limit to the number who can come together, no prohibition on singing or communion or passing the Peace or collecting the offering, and no need for masks, gloves, or cleaning everything when service is over. Let’s take a moment to breathe deeply and contemplate how we as the Body of Christ can best foster oneness and build unity among all people. Perhaps we can bring God’s long wait for us to recognize the humanity and divinity in all our neighbors to and end.
RCL – Year A – Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 24, 2020
Ps 68:1-10, 32-35
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11