Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The New Normal (Reflections on Easter 2, Year A)

Doubting Thomas - Higher Things
Lately we’ve been hearing the phrase “new normal.” It’s funny, isn’t it, how “new normal” always seems somewhat abnormal. We’re enjoined to stand six feet away from each other, stay in our homes, and wear protective masks when we venture into any area where we might potentially run into another member of the human race. We’re working from home, home schooling our kids, and even having church services via our computers or smart phones.

I daresay, most of us don’t like the new normal. I’m sure we can’t wait to get back to the old normal. It felt so much more normal, didn’t it?

But let’s face it: an extremely contagious and potentially deadly virus has made its nasty little way into our normal lives and screwed up everything. Of course, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. The so-called “Spanish Flu” epidemic of 1918 (see my article at the right) caught the whole world unaware. Yet, after it had done its dreadful work, we were smarter people. We learned a whole lot more about epidemiology than we’d known before. When we get past the first onslaught of covid-19, we’ll be even smarter. I hope.

But back to normal..? I don’t think so. Sometimes stuff happens like a pandemic or a terrorist attack or the death of a loved one or the loss of a job and we just have to figure out how to live in the new normal.

The appointed gospel lesson for Easter 2, Year A (John 20:19-31) is that familiar story of Jesus visiting the disciples and poor doubting Thomas not believing when he’s told that the Lord has been raised. I have to wonder if Thomas really wants to believe. After all, he’s been following this Galilean rabbi around for three years, left his family, lived a life of expectation and controversy, had a shot at fame (or so he thought) and then watched everything turn to crap when Jesus was arrested and crucified. Maybe the poor guy just wants to get back to normal. Wouldn’t you?

But now he has to face it: Jesus has been raised. Jesus is alive. No revolution against Rome. No earthly kingdom. Instead, there’s the certainty of eternal life and the command to love the world in the light of forgiveness. Thomas could, conceivably, hand in his Disciples Union card and go back to his old life, but he can’t escape the fact that Jesus has changed everything and nothing will be normal again. Once he’s seen the risen Jesus with his own eyes, he can’t un-see him. Once he’s heard the command to love and to teach forgiveness, he can’t un-hear it. Once he’s known the love and forbearance Jesus has shown him—the risen Jesus, the eternal Jesus, that is—he can’t un-know it. He’s going to have to live in the new normal.

The historian Eusebius recorded Thomas the apostle heading east and preaching the love of Jesus in Parthia (in modern-day Iran). Christian tradition has held that he continued his eastward missionary journey and brought the gospel as far as India, where he was martyred. It seems he embraced his new normal.

It is not insignificant that the thing Jesus wishes for the disciples, the gift with which he blesses them, is peace. It’s somewhat unfortunate that, in our new normal, we might not find ourselves wishing peace on each other in quite the same physical way in which we did it in the past. Nevertheless, if Jesus can blow a breath—a spirit—of peace on these guys who are about to go out and change the world, he most assuredly can grant us the peace to grab onto the changes we will have to make. Now is a time to recognize that we’re all human, we’re all fragile. Now we can push to the forefront of our minds how small our differences are when we’re confronted with hardship. Now we can see the heroic in everyday life, and recognize the priesthood inherent in our own vocations. Now we can pray for God to lead us forward—not backward—into a new normal, still held safe in the nail-scarred hands.

God bless you, my friend. Stay home for now and stay safe.

For a video version of this message, click Easter 2.

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