The world feels quite strange at the moment – confusing and uncertain. Over the last few days the responses to Coronavirus have ramped up considerably and I have found myself in the middle of decisions around our congregations across Western Sydney and whether they remain open or suspend gathering for Sunday worship (and other activities). Across the week the message has become more focussed and real. On Monday we were thinking in broader terms that remained somewhat open and then from yesterday we are encouraging congregations to suspend their worship and look for ways to connect that are remote and happen in other ways.
This strong suggestion is difficult for many people, especially those who are older and have strong traditions, routines and dependence upon the regularity of gathering in the familiar surroundings of church and participating in the familiar and calming influence of rituals they have spent their lives following on a weekly basis. Suddenly, there may be no church on Sunday and the familiar ritual and participation will not be there. The world will be different – it will feel different and that feeling will reflect a reality that all of us experience in this strange time in which we live.
For many of us, the familiar routines of our lives are suspended. Work practices are changing as many offices choose to work from home. Gathering in larger groups has ceased and we have to get used to not reaching out to shake hands or move too close to each other in social settings. I noticed people standing farther apart in the lift this morning at the local shopping mall. Some people are wearing masks and maintaining an extra distance. Shops are using copious amounts of hand sanitiser, as I understand are school classrooms. Sport will be very different as a bunch of players run around in an empty stadium where there is no atmosphere – one wonders how long this can last? Holidays and celebratory occasions are being postponed and those overseas are returning home. Many people who work in various service, hospitality and entertainment industries are threatened with no work and the economy is facing deep impact for some time.
This Coronavirus crisis is changing how we live and act and think about various parts of our lives and how we engage with each other, work and play. For some there is alarm, fear and panic – many particular shelves in the supermarket were empty and the cashier just shook her head in exasperation – ‘How much do you need to stockpile? When is enough, enough?’ We won’t be able to supplement our dog’s dinner with rice after this week because there is none available. Pasta will have to do – and it will do. Things will be and are different and perhaps that will make me think about life, the universe and everything in a somewhat different way. Perhaps it will cause me to stop a little and be grateful for what is around me – the beauty of this season, the trees, sun, sky, animals, birds, flowers and people (who I may only engage from a distance). Perhaps I will take time to enjoy some music or some silence or ponder where I see God in the midst of everything. Perhaps I will take time to think about the people I will not readily see and make more significant, meaningful contact.
I wonder how I might ‘see’ differently as a result of living through this crisis and despite the pain and struggle that will consume particular people in specific ways and our society as a whole? How might this experience and my response to it alter my frame of reference and influence how I live? Certainly, within our churches there will be changes. As we experience this disruption in ‘life as normal/usual’ we will begin to change because we can’t not change. The world has changed and we are sometimes left behind, pretending or hoping that it will all be restored to the way we were but it won’t and can’t because when we see something differently it is very, very hard to go back to seeing things as we used to. So what will change for us?
This week’s story from the life of Jesus comes from John 9:1-41 is about a man born blind. The disciples ask the typical question of the time: ‘Who sinned that this man was born blind – him or his parents?’ Jesus’ response indicates that the man’s blindness isn’t about sin but this is an opportunity to experience and ‘see’ how God responds with compassion and love to the world. Jesus made mud with spittle and put it on the man’s eyes. He told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam, which John translates as ‘sent’. In an act of faith, the man did as he was told and his eyes saw!
People around asked if this was the blind man who begged from them – some said it was and others, it wasn’t but looked like him. They asked and it was him – he told them what happened. The story escalates and religious leaders, good, faithful and serious people seeking to honour God and God’s law were brought into the conversation and were something akin apoplectic as they questioned why someone would break a law of Moses and heal on the Sabbath. They questioned the man, who told them his story, witnessing to grace and healing from Jesus. As things develop the religious leaders interrogate the man’s parents seeking confirmation that he was blind. They affirm he was blind but now sees but have no clue why or how.
The man was initially confused and unsure about Jesus – he gained physical sight but could not ‘see’ clearly what had happened to him. As the story unfolds and he was questioned, he gradually had the experience of recognition – Jesus is of God for no-one could do this if God was not in him. His words cut across the way of the religious people and he leaves their presence to follow Jesus.
It is a wonderful story of gaining sight (and spiritual insight). Through the experience of Jesus living out the Reign of God through healing, compassion, love and justice that draws him into a relationship and experience of the Living God, the man ‘sees’ anew and more clearly. The religious leaders who refuse to engage in this man’s story, remain in darkness and confusion. They do not see and there is no change or life.
As I reflect on this wonderful story, I recognise that in the midst of the chaos we have experienced over the last 6 months and beyond (drought, bushfire, flood and Coronavirus), there is an invitation to listen and ‘see’ anew what is happening in our world and how we might live more fully, creatively, lovingly and justly – and how we might live more fully in the presence and reality of Christ. Will we allow our eyes to be opened to ‘see’ – to see God in the world in all the frailty and beauty, wonder and vulnerability? Will we walk in a new way that is light and gentle, compassionate and gracious – and cares for people and the earth? Will we act with kindness, love justice and walk humbly with God?
May God be with you and care for you gently through this strange, confusing time!