Well, this is new. Preaching to an almost empty Church building. Not that I don’t value the six of us being here together. I do. But it’s all strange. And the greater, stranger, context beyond this, of the Covid-19 pandemic and how it is affecting us, and the whole world, in a frightening new reality. And for how long, we don’t know. This is all terrifyingly new!
And not that I don’t value our livestreaming worship this Sunday. I do. It’s making possible our worshipping together wherever you are, however isolated you are, at this time, or at another time, together.
To worship on the internet is not new, and something we have been talking about for a few years. But now, suddenly a necessity, because we can’t gather physically together, because of the social distancing, or imposed or self-imposed isolation. In the face of the spreading virus, we are together in this way from the Church of the Cross community and other communities, as the body of Christ where we are.
And we give thanks that this makes possible confessing, praying, singing, hearing God’s words, being blessed together. And, acknowledging our longing for returning to life together, in the flesh, communing as the body of Christ by God’s grace. We will. But for now, this is our worship together.
And we need to worship, to gather together in the face of all that is new, unprecedented, extraordinary, uncertain, unknown, having tragic impacts on the lives of so many, in illness and death, especially for elders and the most vulnerable. Not as numbers and total count of infected and dead in one nation or another or across the world, but individual lives, precious to families and communities and to God. We gather to be renewed in God’s promise that we are never isolated or distanced from God; in the person of Jesus who heals and gives new sight, vision, light and life to people; and in the Spirit of Christ, who, in the face of fear and anxiety and uncertainty, and all that is terrifyingly new, offers hope, strength, peace, compassion, love and life eternal to the world.
We gather to hear God’s words in scripture, so often stories of God’s people in new and extraordinary circumstances and experiences, called to trust in God, to return to God, who is gracious and merciful, eternally slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and life.
These are stories we hear today in God’s unlikely anointing of David, the youngest and smallest son of Jesse, to serve and restore God’s people to be a light to the nations; in the beloved Good Shepherd Psalm leading us beside still waters and restoring our souls, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil, for God is with us; and in Ephesians, the awakening of the sleeper from death to Christ’s shining upon us, to live as children of light. All are rich and meaningful words to hear and hold on to in this terrifyingly new and extraordinary time.
And the long narrative of Jesus healing the person born blind, and the encounters with the people surrounding this terrifyingly new and extraordinary event, and the anxiety and uncertainty of what Jesus has done, means, changing everything, for as the person who gained new sight says: “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.” In all of its metaphors of blindness and sight, eyes open and shut tight, seeing and not seeing, is this a story for this terrifyingly new and extraordinary time we are in, asking of us: what is God opening our eyes to see in the face of this pandemic that we may have been blind to before? And what in us or in a community resists this new sight and vision for ourselves and others, choosing blindness over new light and life for the world?
To be very clear, I am in no way suggesting God has created a pandemic to open the eyes of the world, anymore than the disciples’ question to Jesus pondered if the person was born blind because they or their parents sinned. Jesus’ answer is an emphatic, No! (Although an idea circulating of Mother Nature sending humanity to its room for some timeout in the face of the destruction we are causing our planetary home, has a certain appeal.) Again, No. But that God, in this terrifyingly new and extraordinary time in response to this virus, may give us new eyes to see ourselves and our neighbour, this world and everything God has made in a new extraordinary way, in right relationships, in love and light and life, hope and justice and peace and healing and wellbeing for all and all creation. Yes! Yes, please God!
It’s a strange healing story - Jesus making mud with spit and dust of the ground and spreading it on the person’s eyes, inviting them to wash in the pool of Siloam, which means, sent. Are the actions of Jesus like other healers of the time? Or could there be a connection between Jesus making mud to heal the person’s eyes, and the one creation story of God’s taking the dust of the earth and the moisture of the air and making mud to fashion humanity? Is this a new creation of eyes to see by Jesus for this person’s sake, for everyone’s sake, the world’s sake? Whatever the connection, the healing, the new eyes to see that Jesus gives, are cause for rejoicing for this person born blind.
But as we hear, this is not how news of this person’s new sight is received by neighbours and religious authorities and even family, all of them questioning and some rejecting the healing and new sight out of fear. How can we see without fear in this terrifyingly new and extraordinary time, and join with others in every hope of healing and wellbeing for everyone?
I am starting to see: on our daily walks to the water at Mt. Doug beach we have noticed something new on the pathway. Someone has started writing messages in chalk on the path. They started about a week ago, and one or two are added every few days. They say things like: “Everything is going to be okay. Don’t worry, be happy. You are beautiful.” At a fork in the path, it says, “All paths are good.” Just yesterday “You are my sunshine,” was added. And, “Social distancing is caring together.” What is causing someone to have the idea and take the time to write these chalk messages of hope and good spirit for everyone who finds themselves on this path to see and read? And I’m seeing it’s an invitation to offer words like this of hope and good spirit to others whenever we can. And why not all the time, not just during this terrifyingly new and extraordinary time?
I am starting to see… my calendar, and the church’s calendar in a new way. I went through the master calendar in the Church office and put a line through everything that is cancelled for now, recognizing it could go on for a while. I then did the same to my own calendar and sensed a kind of relief and release. And I know how much busier the calendars of young families and people struggling to make ends meet, are in comparison. And I am seeing how full so much of our time is, and how this forced social isolation may be inviting us to see our time differently. Having space as a gift, and how precious we see time together is, when we are isolated from it. I know too that a full calendar is not true for everyone, and that there is too much isolation at other times in other’s lives, elders, single people and people differently able, the unemployed, those who are homeless, young teens struggling to fit in, just to name a few. Can we all see the need of time together and community as a precious gift to be shared with everyone, so no one is isolated and lonely. God give us eyes to see the gift of time together.
I am starting to see, thanks to the vision of others, our fear of this virus and its impact on us in Canada, a place of good health care and incredible health officials like Dr. Henry, Dr, Tam, Dr. Hinshaw, (incredible women) and other government resources to help us cope, manage, respond to this crisis, in contrast to so many places in our world, and indigenous and other communities in our own nation, for so many people, who don’t have the resources, who are so much more vulnerable to this pandemic and its devastation. I am seeing again the urgency of our striving, struggling, advocating, protesting for a greater balance in our communities and world, resisting, opposing those who see self-interests and greed as the only vision, to instead see right relationships to one another that all have enough and committed and faithful care for the earth that is our only home.
God help us to see with new eyes, to live with out fear, to see one another as precious in your sight and life together on this earth as your gift. Jesus touch us and this world with your new and extraordinary healing, light, and life for all. Let it be so. In all our relations. Amen.