Can you feel it? It’s a new spirit of hope, which I perceive blowing across the country. Last week, Canada passed the threshold of 50% of the population having received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine; and if current trends hold, 75% of Canadians will have received at least one dose by Labour Day with perhaps half of us having received two. This is welcome news after a brutal third wave of infection, one that has impacted Alberta especially hard.
I am glad the tally of new cases in Alberta has fallen to around 800 a day from a daily high in early May of more than 2,000 and that the number of people dying from the disease here has dropped from more than 100 per week in January to around 25 per week. But I am also aware that last May there were just 20 new cases and one death per day in Alberta in the week leading up to Pentecost.
One year ago, I discussed how the story of Pentecost — in which the Holy Spirit comes to Jesus’ friends after 50 days of hiding – might fit with the pandemic. The crucifixion had shaken Jesus’ friends to their core; nor did news of his resurrection end their fears. Instead, it took the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit to move the 12 disciples to leave their locked room; and when they did so, they found themselves magically able to talk about the good news of death and resurrection in all the languages of the Mediterranean World to thousands of people gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Pentecost.
Last year, I talked about how this story fit with our experience of the onset of the pandemic in spring 2020; with our initial fear and isolation; and with our hopes for a return to normal.
Last May at Pentecost, Alberta had slowly begun to ease restrictions after sheltering in place for two and half months. I mentioned how pleased I was that Edmonton had the lowest incidence of COVID out of all of Canada’s largest cities. Unfortunately, one year later there are now 30 times more active cases here, which illustrates how difficult the last year has been. But despite this, I believe hope for a summer closer to normal is well-founded.
From all we have heard, the vaccines work; so, as the percentage of vaccinated Canadians rises, the pandemic will likely fade and public health restrictions will lift; and if this happens, I suspect there will be a huge burst of energy, activity, and spirit.
Indeed, I believe that Alberta and much of the rest of the world may be on the cusp a second Roaring Twenties.
The original one was 100 years ago. After the horror of World War I and the death toll of the flu epidemic of 1918 and 1919, Canada soared in the years 1920 to 1929. The economy grew. New technologies like radio, automobiles, and airplanes became more widespread. There was experimentation in fashion, literature, and cinema. It was the Jazz Age. By all accounts, it was a wild time.
If the pandemic eases this summer, a pent-up desire for social contact, commerce, and travel may result in a new period of economic growth and social experimentation. It just might be the start of a new Roaring Twenties.
Not all this energy and spirit will be welcomed. The Roaring Twenties of 100 years ago included many disappointments. The hopes of Europe’s colonies for liberation were not realized for another forty years. The economic boom was accompanied by inflation. The spread of new ideas and technologies led to confusion and alienation as well as euphoria. And the Roaring Twenties were followed by The Great Depression and a second World War.
Something similar might happen this time. Violent crime has risen this year. Inflationary pressures are already evident in the markets for lumber, semi-conductors, and food. Mental health problems have spread during the pandemic. So, when pandemic restrictions are lifted, we probably will not welcome everything that bursts forth.
To illustrate, I now look at Jerusalem yesterday and today.
The story of Pentecost is set in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago and it outlines the growth of the Way of Jesus. But news this month from Jerusalem is anything but happy. On May 6, Palestinians in East Jerusalem, which has been occupied by Israel since the Six Day War of 1967, protested the expulsion of Palestinian residents by Jewish settlers. This led to violent clashes between Jewish and Palestinian youth across Israel, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel, Israeli bombardment of Gaza, and a general strike of Palestinians across Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank.
I am thankful that a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza began on Friday. The fighting has led to the deaths of 12 Israelis and about 250 people in Gaza. Once again, Gaza lies in ruins. I pray that the ceasefire will hold, that the wounds of those hurt and displaced will heal, and that a different path forward will be found.
Spirits are running high in Israel and Palestine, but much of it is far from Holy.
Pentecost is about expanding beyond one’s original tribe. It is about a path of universal Love. The Good News of Jesus is that although everything and everyone dies, a new life closer to the heart of the God who is Love is always possible.
In the conflict between Arabs and Jews in Israel and Palestine today, it would be wonderful if everyone involved could listen to one another, understand each other’s languages and cultural context, and create a Holy Land that had moved from ethnic exclusion to universal peace.
Similar things apply to us. As we emerge from the death, destruction, and unhappiness of the pandemic – thanks in large part to the spirited genius of medical researchers and public health professionals – I pray that the province, country, and world will use some of the joyous spirit of freedom that bubbles up among us to address the social ills uncovered by the pandemic.
May we strengthen our esteem for scientists in their work to understand and heal the world. May we learn from those civic leaders who were able to bring energy, humility, and compassion to the pandemic. May we remember the social inequalities exposed by the pandemic – with seniors in long-term care, racialized and immigrant front-line workers, and homeless people – and use a spirit of hope to tackle and eliminate these inequalities. May we rebuild the economy in a way that will not harm habitats and destroy the conditions needed for abundant living. May we use some of our reviving spirits to mourn what we have lost — the unnecessary deaths, the trauma of fear and isolation, and the long-term health impacts of the disease.
If this summer marks the beginning of a new Roaring Twenties, I pray that during it we will work with other people of goodwill to enjoy each precious moment and discern which of the spirits of the age are truly worthy of the name Holy — those that reach beyond one nation to all people; those that bridge linguistic and ethnic divides; and those that help us grasp in any moment the Amazing Grace of the new life of Easter.
May it be so. Amen.