This weekend I was in the back of the church and saw that the Lenten Giving Tree was still up, with unclaimed tags dangling on the barren branches. Apparently, it has been weeks since I have been in the back of the church. My world has gotten so much smaller. I wondered what else was back there as a reminder of a time before pandemic. There were copies of the bulletin for the Fourth Sunday of Lent. And here we are now at the Fourth Sunday of Easter. Things change. It is inevitable. It is the way of things.
I have no problem with change — if I have initiated it and get to control it. I think most people are that way. And then… there is most change: We probably have not initiated it, can’t control it, do not prefer the uncertainty of it all, and have a tendency to resist it. It can be uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking as it interrupts our patterns and habits. The expression that humans are “creatures of habit” is a true representation of how our brains work. Our basal ganglia in the primitive brain are responsible for “wiring” our habits. This cluster of nerve-cell bodies is involved in functions such as automatic or routine behaviors that we are familiar with or that make us feel good. So, when we need to do something new (or even harder — to do something old in a new way), it takes conscious effort. Sheltering at home has the basal ganglia working overtime for most of us.
I think we all wish we could take on the posture suggested by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” Here is a more pointed description: All change is like a parent changing diapers on a baby: “Awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.” Change is not easy. It takes conscious effort and we are hard-wired to resist it.
And yet the world changed between the Fourth Sunday of Lent and the Fourth Sunday of Easter. We have all watched the world slowly morph. Each day the news reminds us what is lost. By the time you read this, our country will likely have passed the 1,000,000 mark for friends and neighbors infected by the virus. The death toll rises each day. And yet between the two markers of time, the One sent by the Father journeyed through the dark and silent gates of death, only to rise into the newness of life. It is the change we celebrate as a Christian people for we are called to remember that we who are baptized were baptized into the death of Christ, and just as he has been raised, so too are we raised to the newness of life. (Romans 6)
In the days following the Crucifixion the disciples sheltered in place out of fear, anxiety, and mourning for what had been lost. Jesus appeared to them in the upper room and said, “Do not be afraid.” He breathed the Spirit upon them. He told them to go to the ends of the earth to tell everyone about the epic change brought about on Easter morning. Talk about change! Fishermen from Galilee just told to set out to the ends of the world – a world they had never seen. And then went out awkwardly. The Spirit moving them into an ever-expanding world: the upper room, to the streets, to the Temple, to city, to Samaria, to the coast and the cities of the Gentiles. Change upon change upon change. The apostolic basal ganglia in overdrive. The stories of Acts of the Apostles are stories of faithfulness among all the change and struggle.
Our world has changed, is changing and will change —choices, uncertainty, risk, and unknown. But all change reaches a place, a flexure in time, when the choice is Lao Tzu or baby diapers. The Apostles discovered life is a series of supernatural and graced changes. They soon stopped resisting it all. Letting the Spirit move them past sorrow of Crucifixion to the joy of New Life. They let things flow spiritually and it worked out.
So, “yup” our lives have changed. Houses once homes, are now homes, offices and schools. These times have been a “baptism of fire” in many ways. And while we are huddled in our upper rooms, we would do well to remember on the other side of those closed doors, the Spirit awaits. When the shelter-in-place order is rescinded where will we let the Spirit move us as a community of faith? Where will each one of us let the Spirit move us as people of faith?
The thing about Church is that it can be habit, comfortable habit no doubt. But when the Spirit comes it means to have us do something new. We already have an inkling of it. The longing for Eucharist. The longing for community. These are promptings of the Spirit letting us know that perhaps we were too comfortable in our faith. These are the prompting of the Spirit to let us know we have been given the gift of time to reimagine a new church when the doors re-open. These are the promptings of the Spirit to be the change we imagine, calling us to rise to a newness of life.
Let us live out our Baptismal promises in ways as new to us as the mission to the ends of the world was for the apostles. And between this Fourth Sunday of Easter and when the doors of the church are thrown open, we have the gift of the Spirit to let us imagine a world of change.
What will we do with the time given us?