Upended by Gladness

Date posted: Sunday 31 May 2020

This message from Bishop Lull was shared on May 28 during the synod's Prayer Service for Rostered Ministers.

Matthew 28:8-10, 16-20


Grace and peace to you in the name of the Living God. Amen.


How’s your dream life? A few nights ago I dreamed that I was in charge of a confirmation program for several congregations. In the dream I was trying to organize about forty youth and adults into groups for an activity. Now, it has been at least a decade since I taught confirmation, and even back then, ice-breakers were not my strong suit. You can imagine how things unraveled in the dream.


Our dreams these days – like our waking lives -- have been scrambled by the requirements of living amid this COVID-19 pandemic. It began back in Lent and for many of us we thought the air might be clear in a few weeks; maybe by Easter; certainly before the Easter Season came to a close. But here we are. Still waiting in Minnesota to reach the peak in daily infections – and deaths. Over 100,000 dead now across this country.


Friends, you have done amazing things. Almost overnight you figured out how to offer worship services in a whole new way. You rediscovered how to use the telephone and the U.S. mail to reach some people, who are clueless about Zoom and Facebook Live. You encouraged your lay leaders as they applied for Small Business loans. You tended staff who were unsure about working from home. You gathered folks to draw up a plan for re-opening the church building, even as you posted online remarkably smart commentaries about the church not-being-closed but active-and-present in the midst of the world.


But that’s not all that weighs on us these days. At home, you have also shouldered responsibilities in a new way, tending children and aging relatives. You have become teacher and plumber, short-order cook and social secretary for a family’s life in quarantine. You’ve made the best of long walks around the block, tended the garden in the side yard, and met neighbors you never noticed before.


At times you have been bored, frightened, puzzled, certain, exhilarated, exhausted – facing a larger sense of the Unknown than at any other time in your life. And like me in the dream -- where I swear I tried my best to bring order to the chaos in that fellowship hall where we had gathered -- you have done your best, too. Maybe not your old best but your in-the-midst-of-pandemic best and I am proud of you; grateful that we are colleagues, sharing this transformative experience together.


It probably wasn’t worth asking Mary Magdalene and the other Mary what was in their dreams the short night before they came early to the tomb, because they probably had not slept at all. Grief does that. Grief and duty, trauma and shock can rend us wakeful or fitful at best in our sleeping. We all know something about grief and we know that grief – like the immanence of death – rests just beneath the surface of these days.


Now, the word used most frequently for the pandemic we are enduring is the word unprecedented. And in truth, most of us have never before experienced in a first-hand way such a widespread shut down of all social systems nor the ravishes of such a life-threatening disease.


I hope we have added compassion and pay attention to a few of our colleagues, who have endured horrendous catastrophes – civil wars, life in refugee camps, and natural disasters with death tolls in the thousands. Also, some of our colleagues, who are persons of color, have experienced fresh acts of racism, disrespect, event outright violence in a way that those of us who are white never experience. Their sense of trauma is deep. We must let them know that we stand together in these times.


And I know – as you know -- that in the past few days our hearts have broken several times over. At news of a fatal car crash in which mother and daughter both died and at news of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis Monday evening. Even in the midst of this pandemic we are reminded of both of the fragility of life and the disparities with which health care and economic opportunity, safety and basic human regard are allotted in this country. We are not spared those difficult truths just because of the coronavirus. We cannot overlook violence or injustice or human tragedy until the world is easier to navigate. Even now, we grieve with those who grieve; we call out for justice and accountability on behalf of those who are victims of systemic injustice; really ugly racism. We wish such disturbing news was unprecedented but it is all too familiar. Enough already.


There is, however, one truly unprecedented event in today’s Gospel text. God has raised Jesus from the dead. And in the verses that follow that proclamation we begin to see what comes on the heels of resurrection. We are told that the two Marys left the tomb with fear and great joy. Can you imagine? Tired, gob-smacked, startled, energized and God alone knows what else might have quickened in their hearts as they ran back to find the others in the city.


For most of us Emmaus is the go-to story for describing how Jesus finds us in the midst of our fears and sadness. But notice that here in Matthew’s account Jesus likewise shows up and startles the women, as he meets them on the way – in the very place where fear and joy are mingled. “Be not afraid … go and tell … go to Galilee, there (you) will see me.” (Matthew 28:10)


Friends, I’m not exactly sure how the rest of this year is going to play out. Will the infection rate and deaths from Covid-19 slow down enough to restore our confidence about gathering in person? Will enough people wear masks and keep a safe distance and wash their hands so that it makes sense to send kids and teachers back to school this fall? Will a vaccine be developed that renders this virus powerless? And if this is the second inning, to use the image from Michael Osterholm, are we playing seven or nine or something more in this tournament? For a while still we will not know.


But we know that the Risen Christ has power greater than death; power to raise us – slowly and surely – to new life in this time of unknowing.


It is in Galilee that Jesus commissions his disciples. You know these words by heart – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember – remember – I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)


St. Matthew tells us that those who made it to the promised reunion in Galilee, worshipped this Risen Christ; worshipped, much as we ourselves ponder and praise and turn our faces to glimpse the presence of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, even in these unsettled days. And also some doubted, as probably we have had such moments ourselves in these past 10 weeks.


Over the summer months ahead I pray that we will be upended -- not by our worries and our sense of all that has been lost – but drawn up short by gladness, by the courage you will need, by creativity, by the assurance that Christ is at our side, accompanying us along the way into God’s future as was promised. Even in this pandemic we are blessed with the presence of the Living God, who goes before us into every heartache and hardship, who beckons us to trust that life in Christ is life, indeed. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Bishop Patricia Lull