Our Savior’s sign currently.
I’ll cut to the chase. This morning’s Gospel lesson is, needless to say, relevant. From the very beginning: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Who sinned, that we are now in a pandemic?”
It’s a question as old as time. Who is to BLAME?
The answer is the same in both cases: no one. Don’t waste your time on blame in a crisis or in the face of pain. The ailments are, instead, an opportunity.
In John 5, there’s a similar healing to the one I just read. In that passage and in this one, Jesus approaches the person in need of healing without the person looking for him. In John 5, Jesus asks a question of the man in need of healing that has been rattling around my brain this week.
“Do you want to be made well?”
In this passage, Jesus says to the man, “Go and wash.”
(Jesus told you to; go and wash your hands. Unless you’re watching this live, you can pause me. I’ll wait.)
We’ve all been readjusting to what has become our new normal. When we canceled worship last week, I was happy to take precautions but also didn’t think it would last more than a week or two. Now, in only a week, we are coming to realize that this will last longer than any of us want it to.
Settle in. This is going to last longer than any of us want it to.
We are being asked to practice social distancing: “Like a good neighbor, stay over there!” Places of worship have canceled services, including us, to protect our people. The state has mandated that we not gather in groups of over 25, and the CDC knocked that down to 10.
We’re being told to go and wash — in this case, our hands. We’re being told to get exercise and to stay away from other people. I get the sense that most people are taking it seriously, but some aren’t.
America — “Do you want to be made well?”
“Go and wash.”
If we didn’t know this before, we are all interconnected. My carelessness in going out may not make me sick, but it could contribute to someone else getting sick. We must care for each other. We must ensure that everyone is made well as quickly as possible.
We are all lonely. And hurting. And grieving things that have been canceled. And maybe even a little angry or at least annoyed with those we may be sharing a house with. We are bored. One of the cruelties of this international crisis is that we have too much time to think, to be anxious, to worry — about our loved ones, about ourselves, about our livelihoods. I share all of those worries with you. We are all in this together, and we must stay the course to flatten the curve of this thing and to ensure that it’s over with as quickly as possible. I am a marathoner, so let me tell you something about marathons: they last longer than you want them to, and they are painful, but once you start, you have no choice but to stay the course until the finish line.
The same holds true here.
“Do you want to be made well?”
In this passage, Jesus does the healing and then there’s a whole line of conversation and controversy about how the guy got healed. In the same way, there’s a whole line of conversation and controversy about this virus. We’re yelling at each other, calling in witnesses, trying to figure out how it happened, trying to pass blame. We’re trying to find out how to stop it and get back to our lives.
But the point of the story is in the blind man’s words: “I was blind, and now I see.” Now, more than ever, we need to realize that the Gospel is a story about God, not a story about us. Now more than ever, we need to do our part and handle what we can control — we need to want to be made well — and we need to realize right now how very much is out of our control.
Beloved, one of the things that I always say, especially on Christmas and Easter, is that we always gather to celebrate. I always say that never do we get to the end of Lent and then shrug and say “Well, I guess we won’t get together this year.” We always do. We always, always do.
This year is probably going to be different. And I realized something this week that I had not realized before, at least not like this: we do not make Easter happen. Easter will happen regardless of what we do, or do not do, which skits we perform, which music we sing. New life is going to burst forth out of the frozen ground, and it already is here in Massachusetts. The trees are sprouting. The shoots are coming up. New life is coming, and we did nothing to earn it or bring it in. Because we can’t make spring come.
When we have gathered together in previous years for the first Sunday of Easter or Easter Vigil, I don’t think I fully appreciated that we were only acknowledging a reality, not making it happen.
Beloved, new life will come. This will end. And Jesus Christ is as risen today as yesterday, and tomorrow, and forever. Doctors and nurses and infectious disease specialists are already working around the clock to get this under control. We owe them our gratitude, our love, our very lives. Help is on the way, and in the meantime, we need to stay home.
Focus on what you can control: yourself. You can call the people you want to talk to. You can wash your hands. You can get exercise and you can stay home.
Let go of what you cannot control and rest only knowing that we are not alone.
If any good comes from this, let it be that we no longer take for granted a hug from a friend, a beer at a bar, or the ability to gather together in safety to acknowledge and proclaim what God has already done.
But that even now, in the middle of Lent, Christ is still risen. Even now, it is spring. Even now, there is hope.
Our sign outside currently reads, “Hope is not canceled.” That is true. Easter is not canceled either. We may have to celebrate it in a different way this year, but Easter will still come.
And after this year, we will never again take for granted the sound of children stomping out death at Easter Vigil. We will never again take for granted the smell of the lilies and the smiles on the faces of all of our people in their Sunday best. We will never again take each other for granted.
So connect, however you can. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Let’s flatten this curve so that we can get back to loving one another in person.
Until then, control what you can, and give up thinking that you can control everything. Let yourself rest and be still. We are not alone. You are not alone.
Until we are all set free from this, we will love one another however we can, including like this. We will reach out and call one another when we need to. We will send loving texts and Facebook messages and laugh until we cry over video calls. We will make the best of this.
And the best news of all is that Christ will bring us healing, and new life, and resurrection, whether we ask for it or not. When this is over, we will see everything, including each other, with new and grateful eyes.
We are not alone. Hope is not canceled. And help is already on the way. Amen.