John 20:19-29 Let’s go back for a look at this story again. First, Jesus commissions the disciples, and us by extension, to study where forgiveness is needed around us and to minister to those who need forgiveness (including ourselves). It comes down to this: Jesus wants you to be the TONIC in a world of suffering. Without this tonic of forgiveness, human life falters.
Jesus speaks to you when he says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Our ministry, the ministry of forgiveness, is that important.
Then, Jesus says to Thomas who has come to see Jesus’ wounds, “Blessed are those who never saw me (as you do) and yet have found faith.” He blesses those beyond Thomas, such as we ourselves, who only have these written gospels of him, yet aren’t we freshly surprised every time he accosts us from these pages, although we have never seen him?
How does such faith come about?
Jesus crosses the great distance between the gospel pages and our hearts on a river called the Holy Spirit. Breathing on them in that locked room, Jesus transmitted to them something that cannot be seen—just as God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus grants the spirit of creativity we need right now to survive. Let me explain.
I. Faith. Covid-19 cannot take Jesus’ spirit away from us, any more than a grave hewn out of rock can—not at all. But Covid-19, just as much as it has damaged or taken some peoples’ physical lives, has shaken our emotional life and we doubt whether anything will alleviate our anxiety. So deep, wide and high is this crisis that we ask, “Where is God in it all?” feeling abandoned.
Someone in the church recently commented to me, “These are reflective times.” Truly, these are indeed times that make us reflect, that make us go deeper within our selves, into our memory of how we got here and who we are fundamentally, times that make us reach for a deeper spiritual life. Because, the old habits are not working for us under these conditions, nor are our old assumptions about life.
You have already been creative about so many things so far, about how to manage the children under one roof 24/7, creative in weaving work into household management, creative about keeping on top of the bills, many people are having to be very creative about maintaining income. Running on that kind of emergency creativity is exhausting.
We fall back blaming God, or worse, blaming ourselves for insufficient faith in God. But faith is surely more than passive acquiescence in the destiny that God has meted out to us. Such faith is a kind of giving up—“God will take care of us.” God has already “taken care” of us in creating us in God’s own image (Genesis 1:26). As creatures of this creator God, we also are creators. God has equipped us with the creativity called for in this awful crisis. We experience it every day in the active exercise of our imagination—faith imagines things as yet unimagined.
Faith like this is, in fact, an elemental force in nature, our God-given nature. In this faith, we experience the freedom to become what God in this crisis calls for.
Of course we wonder where God is in this? Of course we are afraid of our fears. Of course, we don’t know what to do. So now it is time to clear the way for reflection (remember the phrase, “reflective times”?) equal to the seriousness of this moment.
II. Imagination. So, I call all of you, in the name of Christ, to a deeper spirituality than you have attained heretofore. Even as you juggle all that goes with this sheltering, I call you to take an additional two steps. Make just these two little steps at first, just to get started.
First, reduce the input; reduce the intake. This is easier said than done. We complain of internet overwhelm—well, we have to do something about that, don’t we? I can’t tell you what self-discipline may be required in your case, but you already know what I mean.
So I’ll go straight to the second little step—increase the output. We take in internet advice and wisdom and news all day and produce little of our own, little of ourselves that comes from our insides, from the gut, from the heart. That’s because nobody asks us to, but I am asking you to now. Because expression allows us to discover what’s inside that we don’t realize.
Finding creative ways to express ourselves, even in the smallest way, unearths the self that wants to be born in this moment’s crisis. The painters are painting; the composers are composing; I hope the dancers are dancing. But for our initial purposes, I would recommend to you keeping a daily journal. A journal?? Yes, even so mundane a vehicle serves this sacred purpose.
You might not try to start a journal, possibly, because no minister ever asked you to before—forgive them! You might not try a journal, possibly, because your family will laugh at you—forgive them! You might not try, possibly, because you feel awkward and self-conscious about it—forgive yourself. You might not try, possibly, because you’re just too full of anger—forgive those you are angry at.
Again, reduce the input. Again, second, increase the output, the expression. Make more room for reflection in these reflective times—and don’t let those reflections evaporate.
I know two people now at Eliot Church who are keeping a daily journal. Perhaps there are others who already have the practice. They record not just events but also their own thoughts and feelings, reflections about what they’re reading (scripture?) before charging into the day.
Where’s that pad you make grocery lists on? Got a leftover notebook lying around? Keep it handy. You don’t have to compose essays—just jot down the passing thoughts about the strangeness of this strange time.
Because, when you write, you capture time for eternity. Your journal actually represents your devotion to the God who made you to break your silence, it is a ritual in a pedestrian day, it is a kind of armchair pilgrimage, and if you do it with a Bible open on the table beside you in front of the window which opens to the outside world—it is, finally, your prayer for the day.
You will experience the vital link between yourself and Christ—call it faith, call it imagination, call it what you will—it opens what is closed, it frees what is locked down, it energizes what is inert. It may turn out that Covid-19 will drive us to living our life as a religious vocation the way we always should have been living it.
Short-term—deepen your spiritual life this way. It will prepare you for the long-term—when we must be ready to attack poverty. Before this all hit, there were 500,000 homeless in the U.S. 27 million without health insurance. 38 million living below the poverty level. 40 million on SNAP.
What will those numbers be when the all-clear signal is given? And what do you suppose the racial breakdown of those numbers will be?
Covid-19 cannot defeat anyone who is possessed of the creativeness which is itself our God-given religion through the Holy Spirit bestowed on us by Christ.
See how Matthew Fox put it in one of his books: “There is a river of creativity that runs through all things, all relationships, all being, all corners and centers of this universe. We are here to join it, to get wet, to jump in to ride these rapids, wild and sacred as they be. That river is the Holy Spirit itself.” Amen!