One of the great illusions when life is stable is that we are in control. The pandemic has shattered that illusion; a tiny virus broke through all our expectations. Plans were disrupted; families separated; and many of the ways in which we manage our lives were no longer effective. We discovered our vulnerability, and that we need each other for survival and are not in control.
This may seem self-evident to people who have experienced instability as refugees from wars, climate change or natural disasters. For many other Canadians life has been relatively stable and safe. Now it is unstable, not predictable and not always safe. Some people respond by securing as much as possible. Others embrace the new possibilities; still others respond with anger, frustration and even violence.
How should disciples of Jesus respond to such times? Before the crucifixion, the disciples tried to make Jesus’ call fit the expectations of culture and community about earthly power and glory. After the resurrection, they faced the destabilizing wonder of this event and discovered its truth to be the place of their security. In its light, and with the power of the Holy Spirit to guide, they could and would face ridicule, imprisonment and beatings with courage and joy, continually sharing the good news in word and action.
We long for stability. We now have glimpses of it, as the pandemic seems to be waning. But whether it returns or not, our lives find their hope each day in another place and we cannot be shaken from its security.
St. Paul knew this security maybe more than others. He surrendered his certainties as a Pharisee and discovered the love of God through the vulnerability of his initial blindness and the witness of followers of Jesus willing to risk guiding him in faith. He would write:
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:7-8)
Paul found freedom in Christ. Whether he was in prison, on a sinking ship, preach-ing in marketplaces or advocating for the gospel with Gentiles he was a passionate, joyful disciple. His letters are filled with encouragement to the emerging Christian communities as he reminded them of the inheritance of faith and joy of the gospel. Whenever I need a reminder of this hope I read one of the opening sections of a Pauline letter like Colossians (1:9-14):
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
I know there is a deep weariness with the ongoing uncertainties around us, the seemingly endless pandemic and inability to plan more than a few weeks at a time. There is a deep exhaustion amongst leaders trying to make the best decisions possible for parishes and dioceses, knowing that anxiety and frustration levels are high. This is a time to stay firm in our focus on the one certainty we have, in life or in death, which is the love of God through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God!