Easter, April 12, 2020
Plymouth First United Methodist Church
Pastor Toni Carmer
Our world has changed.
It didn’t happen overnight, but it was happening beyond our awareness, beyond our ability to understand. It seems that the Coronavirus that has so profoundly re-shaped our world—our communities, our social interactions, our economy—can be traced back to late last year in a South China seafood market in Wuhan, China. A 33 year old ophthalmologist named Li Wenliang first observed the contagion in his work at a hospital in December and warned his colleagues, but folks there are very much like we are: we’re good at downplaying, at making excuses, of not seeing what we don’t want to see and hoping it will all go away. By the end of January this young physician was diagnosed with COVID and after 3 weeks in the hospital died in early February.
The wave began—who knows when exactly—but, life went on, normal patterns continued, and now, 3, 4 months later, the whole world has been affected. Most likely someone you know has been tested, someone you know will have a positive result, some of us will get sick. As we know from watching the news (we do a lot of that right now, don’t we?) its impact will vary, but it’s important for all of us to “follow the rules,” to do our best to stay healthy ourselves, and to protect others, because we don’t know if we’re somehow already carrying the virus with us.
Our world has changed, and I don’t know—no one knows yet—how soon we’ll be able to return to normal. I long to spend time with my kids and my grandkids. Facetime is good and helpful, but there’s something about the smell of Ella’s hair, and the subtle movement of Livy’s hand as she takes mine while we’re walking down the street and Clayton’s silliness that just doesn’t come through on the screen. So, there’s this ache inside. I know you feel it, too. I miss going out to my favorite restaurants whenever I feel like it, and not having to be on guard at the grocery story, and doing without whatever it is I think I need for a recipe or whatever for a couple of days because I know we need to stay home and away from others as much as possible—those things I can learn to live with. But the social distancing has been hard.
I sometimes start crying for no good reason.
I get grouchy for no good reason.
I miss what was, and wonder what will be…because I know our world has changed. And it will keep changing because of this virus that for now, is holding us all hostage.
Our world has changed.
I think about how it must have been for those first disciples. Those who were always with Jesus…who kept listening to his teaching…who watched him heal the sick…who saw these miracles that they couldn’t explain.
Others observed, too. Some were skeptics. They didn’t want to see so they didn’t. Some wanted to have Jesus arrested. They spent time building their case so their presentation to the authorities of his wrong-doings wouldn’t be denied. They wanted to stop it. Stop him.
The world was changing around them, but they didn’t want to see. They didn’t understand. They wanted to live their lives, the ones they had grown accustomed to. They didn’t need any new news, even though some considered it “good” news. Life was fine the way it was.
But there were others who realized what had been no longer was. They were now “clean” healed of the leprosy that had plagued them for so long. Their son could now see, and how amazing it had to be to look into the eyes of this beloved child of theirs, and to see that the scales had fallen away and to know he could look into their eyes and see the love the love they felt for him. The woman’s bleeding had stopped. Lazarus now lived, even though they knew he died. They knew it. Saw it. But now he was alive.
The world had changed.
And then Jesus had died. He wasn’t able to save himself. They’d watched him die that terrible death on the cross. They watched him bring down his body, placed it in a tomb. Rolled the stone over the front.
I can hear the dull sound of that heavy object, pushed by several men, rolling over the dark earth, until it lodged into place.
But then the women arrive, the stone is rolled away and they’re startled—they’re beside themselves. What? What in the world has happened? An angel is there and says to them, Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus, but he isn’t here. He’s been raised from the dead, just as he said. He’s going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there.
Their world had changed.
It had been changing all around them, but they hadn’t realized it. It was beyond their ability to comprehend. It was too big for mortal minds to understand.
Our world has changed.
I don’t understand it, I can’t wrap my mind around it. I don’t have the ability to know or to predict the future.
But I do know that even though our world has changed, and will continue to change around us, there is still good news: Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and even in the midst of difficult times, of an unknown future we can sing our alleluia’s.
It’s important that we not pretend that everything is the same as it was.
It’s important for us to listen and to learn new lessons. To keep finding new and better ways of reaching out and caring for one another. To make sure our neighbors have food to eat, and toilet paper. You know, the basics.
Our world has changed. But God is with us. We are not alone.
Our church has changed. But it is alive and well. We learned almost a year ago that our church is more than a sanctuary. We’re continuing to learn today that our church is not a building at all. The church has left the building, I’ve heard it said, but the church lives on, in you, in me, and in all of us together.
And something else we’ve been reminded of in a way we may not have fully understood before. We are connected to one another—not only you and me and our families and friends that are scattered throughout the state and nation—but we’re connected to people we’ve never met and never will. As this virus somehow traveled from Wuhan, China in only a few months—so has, and so can the Word of God. The Word of God can be shared through Christians everywhere. Not by defying the virus and saying God is stronger than this, and if my faith is strong enough I can do what I want to do—but by embracing and living and sharing the Word of God, encouraging one another, comforting one another, loving one another.
We’ll continue to worship in this new way that feels odd and isn’t my favorite by any means. If we have to learn to fist bump and flash the peace symbol instead of embracing or shaking hands, so be it. Our world has changed, but God’s love remains steadfast.
There is good news.