“When will we get back to normal?” is now a familiar refrain as people yearn for a break from news of COVID-19, social unrest, political turmoil and climate change.
But this time of pandemic is important because it’s revealing deep flaws within our church, our nation and our world. I, for one, hope we never go back to normal. I don’t want some cosmic CPR to resuscitate our former lives of ignorant bliss and complacency for some, and hidden suffering and oppression for others. I want new life. I pray for the life of the world to come. More than at any other time in my life, I pray for resurrection.
Resurrection is different from resuscitation. Resuscitation is reviving someone from unconsciousness or apparent death—a singular act for a specific person that theoretically brings them back to “normal.” Resurrection, on the other hand, is a salvific act that is communal in nature and brings transformation.
Resurrection is not about returning to our former society but about reordering society closer to God’s “kin-dom” of peace, love and justice. Resurrection comes about through the death of old ways of being and seeing, and through allowing the Spirit to stretch, shape and mold us into new creation.
We don’t have to wait for new life: God has already been at work creating something new in our hearts and society as we’ve faced the challenges of COVID-19.
Jesus’ disciples were able to experience this firsthand, but first they needed to witness his death. Afterward, they felt scared, tired and worn-out. They retreated to a closed room with those they knew. Some traveled home. Some went back to fishing. They all returned to something that felt safe.
The Jesus who reappears to them in the Gospels isn’t their rabbi resuscitated—he has destroyed the power of sin and death, enabling them to lift their heads and see the world through God’s loving gaze. The resurrected Christ is the inception of God’s transformative work in the world.
When Jesus comes back to the disciples, he tells them, “This is what the Scriptures said: that the promised Anointed One should suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, that in His name a radical change of thought and life should be preached, and that in His name the forgiveness of sins should be preached, beginning in Jerusalem and extending to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47, The Voice translation).
They are called and compelled to continue the journey they started with Jesus, to continue moving forward, transforming the world one person at a time by sharing God’s healing love. The disciples were called into resurrection life. Likewise, we don’t have to wait for new life: God has already been at work creating something new in our hearts and society as we’ve faced the challenges of COVID-19.
Journeying to racial justice
At the 2019 Churchwide Assembly, the ELCA took an important step by publicly condemning white supremacy. Also that year, Sparkhouse published a resource to engage this conversation, Dialogues On: Race, but many ELCA congregations still weren’t ready to engage this difficult topic. In May 2020, as the country and the world witnessed the killing of George Floyd and the empowerment of the Black Lives Matters movement, the ELCA’s predominantly white congregations were forced to confront the reality of institutionalized discrimination, racism and white supremacy—some, perhaps, for the first time.
Spurred by the Spirit, many of our ELCA congregations took this as an opportunity to study race and racism, join advocacy efforts, build new relationships and begin or advance on the long journey of repentance and racial reconciliation.
May God continue to bring transformation in and through the church until all of God’s children are liberated from the bonds of injustice.
Being the church outside our walls
Due to the pandemic, communities have been hit hard by job losses, increased food insecurity and diminished resources. Churches around the country, forced to limit in-person ministry, turned out to support those who were (and are) hurting outside their doors.
One example I witnessed in my community: In response to immigrants’ needs, individuals, churches and nonprofit organizations in Rock County, Wis., gathered to create the Immigrant Support Network. With broad community participation they provided members of the immigrant community with food aid, rent assistance and more.
Nationwide, ELCA World Hunger made Daily Bread Matching Grants available to congregations to support new and existing feeding ministries for neighbors who are hungry. Additionally, Lutheran Disaster Response dispensed relief funds to synods and global companions to address COVID-19 in their contexts. God’s life-giving outreach through coordinated and grassroots efforts has been evident near and far as people reimagine how they can serve others.
May God continue to bring transformation in and through the church until we fulfill the command to love God and love neighbor.
Resurrection is happening! There are countless other ways this church is experiencing transformation and new life, from expanding how we worship to reimagining education to growing in appreciation of the social aspect of worship.
We are resurrection people, and I am excited by the church we are becoming. This Easter, may we be inspired by Jesus’ resurrection to continue working with a bold and daring confidence toward the promise that, through Christ, “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).