What’s going to happen after the pandemic? This question comes to mind these days. What’s going to happen when public health guidelines eventually relax and we can meet face-to-face again? How will things feel and look like in our gatherings?
Jesus often uses images from nature to articulate truth about God and our world. In today’s Gospel, it’s the image of a vine.In that imagery we have a description of what is– which is comforting:
Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. This is a wonderful image of how we are in Christ, that Christ is in us. This natural-world metaphor of a vine suggests that we grow from Christ, our source, in an organic, gracious sort of way. Feels good.
But not everything in this image is easy and comfortable. We also hear echos of what may sound threatening.
There are moments, yes even seasons of time where we feel dislocated, disrupted and even disposed of. We feel like we are being pruned, ripped off and maybe even thrown away—thrown into the fire and burned.
Isn’t COVID one of those times? Just like Jesus says, when we feel like we bear no more fruit in our lives, or the world bears no more fruit, the doom-and-gloom messages threaten to overwhelm and overtake us in grief and despair.
What’s going to happen after the pandemic? Truth is, no one knows what the future holds. No one ever did. The only thing we know is what we’ve been through in the past fourteen months, and how we continue to struggle with COVID’s effects on our collective life today.
One thing the natural world from which Jesus took many of his stories can teach us is how to appreciate the natural rhythms of time passing through the seasons. In marking time through this pandemic, we experience what has changed and what we’ve lost. The extraordinary changes have come alongside all the ‘normal’ griefs and losses of life. It’s just that these natural pains and struggles are felt more intensely in COVID times.
There is also such a thing as sacred time. Sacred time operates similarly to nature’s timing which grounds us, literally, in the present moment. In this sacred perspective, “there is no past, present or future. God holds time without reference to what has been and what will be.”When we put our hands in the soil, there is only that moment that matters. The implication of seeing time in this sacred way is that the most fruitful course to engage the difficult questions of our time, is to focus on now.
Both the good and the bad. Now. Where is God speaking to us, now? Not for some distant future. Not from some pre-COVID past reality. But now, amdistall that has changed and continues to change around us, what is God up to?
How can we come to appreciate the grace in the present moment? Well, the way we pray and the way we read the bible is the way we live our life. So, wherever in the Gospels we encounter vivid imagery of end times or firey descriptions similar to what we read in today’s Gospel, let me ecourage you to examine your response.
For example, when we read about wars, earthquakes and famines in the New Testament, what do you first feel? I suspect most of us regard this message as a threat. True, anything that upsets our normalcy may be a threat to our egos. But in the Big Picture, it really isn’t.
Hidden often in this imagery is the assertion that those times are just the beginning. In Matthew 24:8 it says, “All this is only the beginning of the birth pangs.” Perhaps the best way to understand this time is that “we are nearing the end of the beginning.”
In other words, this language in the bible is for the sake of birth not death.
In Luke 21, Jesus says right in the middle of a catastrophic description: “Your endurance will win you your souls.” When we acknowledge and feel the pain of our dislocation and disruption from the pandemic, it is for the sake of renewal, not punishment. We know what it feels like when things fall apart around us and in us. But what if it’s for a good purpose? When Jesus says, “Stay awake”, what he means is: “Learn the lesson that this time has to teach you.”
The point of these scriptures that feel threatening is not to strike fear in us as much as rearrange our imagination for the new, good thing God is doing right now. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not a threat. It’s an invitation to depth. It may be what it takes to wake us up to the real, to the lasting, to what matters.
Our best response, I believe, is to see with the mind’s eye, the heart’s eye, reality-as-it-is. What if we dove into this sacred time positively, preemptively, praying, “Come, what is; teach me your good lessons”? What if we said yes to “What is” rather than getting trapped in the negative past year, or escaping into a fanciful future?
Abide in Christ. The life Jesus gives is the life we draw from now. Saying yes to “What is” brings us into that divine space where God finds us, and renews us.
Diana Butler Bass, “Religion after Pandemic” in The Cottage (blog accessed on 26 April 2021)