Texts: John 7:37-39 (living water) * Acts 2:1-12 (the Day of Pentecost)
Have you expanded your bubble since May 14 when Alberta relaxed physical distancing restrictions? Ten days ago, I had a chiropractic appointment. Last week, I got my hair cut. More and more, I am working from the church office.
Since mid-March, most of us have been sheltering in place. Despite outbreaks of COVID-19 in meatpacking plants and the tragic spread of the disease in long-term care homes, physical distancing has slowed the spread of the infection. I am grateful that among Canada’s big cities, Edmonton has the smallest incidence of COVID-19.
Our move into social isolation this spring and the more recent one of resuming some community life remind me of the biblical stories of Easter and Pentecost.
When Jesus is executed on Good Friday, his friends go into hiding. Even after the Risen Christ appears to them on Easter Sunday, they remain fearful. Then, 50 days later during the Jewish festival of Pentecost, they receive the Holy Spirit, which descends on them like tongues of fire. Immediately, they emerge from hiding and begin preaching in all the languages of the Mediterranean world.
Time spent in hiding can be soulful, while moments like Pentecost are spirited. Unfortunately, not all times spent sheltering are healing; and not all spirits are holy. Today, I look at how our experience during the pandemic has included both healthy and unhealthy sheltering and both holy and unholy spirits.
Everyone needs both soul and spirit. Our souls crave family, tradition, and safety while our spirits crave adventure, innovation, and risk. Without soul, we burn out. Without spirit, we stagnate.
We sheltered at home this spring for the health of community; and I hope that for many of us it was also good for our souls. But this was not the case in households scarred by domestic violence; ones without adequate space, money, or basic resources; and ones in which isolation led to damaging loneliness.
Re-emerging into community is necessary for our spirits, the economy, and our sanity. I hope that Alberta can continue to relax restrictions without a resurgence of COVID-19. And I hope that the lockdown will not lead to too many bankruptcies or permanent job losses. I pray that we can reconnect with one another in ways that are loving and enlivening.
The United States illustrates how not to deal with a pandemic. Its federal leadership has been erratic and devoid of empathy; and its lockdown period saw several public demonstrations of armed and angry white men.
Now that public life is resuming in the US, several new incidents of racist violence have occurred, including the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last Monday. As the weather gets warmer, as the bite of economic collapse sharpens, and as the health disparities between poor people of colour and white people are revealed, civil unrest grows.
As in Canada, the pandemic in the U.S. has been the occasion for innumerable acts of ingenuity, care, and compassion. But too many souls were not healed by the time of isolation. And spirits are now running high. Unfortunately, they include spirits of racism and entitlement, and ones of rage and despair. The USA is writing a textbook on how not to tackle a pandemic, and I fear for it.
Leading a community into and out of a time of isolation requires the best of both spirt and soul. At Mill Woods United, I am grateful for the quick, innovative, and steady leadership that has shepherded us through this period of isolation and is now discussing plans for how we might open up in the fall; and I am heartened by all the ways we are connecting and supporting one another, including the work done by the wonderful crew that is here in the sanctuary again this morning.
During the pandemic, Canadian governments have acted quickly in difficult circumstances, and much has been revealed. In the wake of the pandemic, I pray that Canada will increase its support to its frail elderly; improve conditions for workers in places like meatpacking plants; and provide more support for homeless people if there is ever another shelter in place order.
At Pentecost almost 2,000 years ago, a dispirited group of friends who were mourning the loss of Jesus found new energy. They shed their fears, left their hiding places, and built communities of love and justice.
Jesus’ friends had found the rivers of Living Water he had promised them. They drank deep and discovered new ways to love one another and their neighbours.
This Pentecost, may we joyfully follow in their footsteps — in this community of faith, in this country, and throughout this troubled but wondrous world.
May it be so. Amen.