The New Normal

It’s May 24, 2020. Once upon a time May 24 was a very important day in Canada, at least among United Empire Loyalists . . . It was the birthday of Queen Victoria herself, born May 24th, 1819.

The Queen’s birthday, and/or its anniversary, has been observed by Canadians since 1845, becoming known as Victoria Day following the death of Queen Victoria. And over the years, innumerable towns and cities have fêted the occasion with great pomp and ceremony:––guns salutes at midnight; serenades at dawn; lavish picnics and athletic competitions; torchlight processions; even fireworks––you name it. And all for a lady who died in 1901!

In the New Age of Covid-19, however, Victoria Day is part of what people are now calling the Before Time. Yes––the “Before Time”––or BT for short, let’s just say––perhaps soon to take its place next to CE and BCE, (at least among the punditry).

“Five months into 2020 and it already feels like a new era,” writes analyst Nic Robertson of CNN: “now there is only BC and AC––before and after coronavirus . . .Suddenly the dynamics of almost every single geopolitical dispute are being exacerbated by the pandemic, sharpened by the complexity and urgency of the situation.”

Haven’t you noticed? A whole new vocabulary has evolved––or been repurposed––to describe “Life, under the Pandemic.” This new vocabulary includes the words and terms, among others:

Covid-19. A code-name of sorts for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, aka SARS-Co-V-2), first identified in Wuhan, China, in December of last year.

Social distancing, (a.k.a. physical distancing). Maintaining physical distance between people, especially in public, to help stop the spread of the disease, which may include restricting large gatherings, and travel.

Sheltering in place. Staying indoors, i.e. at home, by governmental decree, especially during an emergency.

Flattening the curve. Slowing the spread of an epidemic––and/or pandemic––so as not to overwhelm the health care system; the curve representing the number of cases, over time.

Incubation period. The period between infection and the onset of symptoms.

Zoonotic. Any disease of animals communicable to humans.

Herd immunity. The growing resistance to a pathogen that occurs when a very high percentage of individuals have developed immunity to the same either through vaccination, or developing antibodies on their own, i.e. through exposure to the same.

New normal. What life will be like after Covid-19. Yet to be defined.

Yet to be defined!!

What will life be like after Covid-19?? inquiring minds inquire. The same as it was before––

or strangely––even frighteningly––different? Which is it?

The “new normal” is a phrase now frequently used by our Prime Minister, among many others.

“Last night, the premiers and I held our tenth weekly call since the beginning of the crisis,” said he on Friday morning. “And we talked about what’s been on everyone’s mind lately: how we can safely reopen the economy. Over the past few months, Canadians have been doing a great job of staying at home, maintaining physical distancing, and listening to public health advice. And that means that we can restart some activities . . . But we’re not out of the woods yet . . . So today, I want to outline what we know needs to happen to successfully reopen the economy:––and adjust to our “new normal . . .”

Believe it or not, the disciples faced the same question, immediately following the resurrection of Christ. Nestled in the euphoria were growing doubts about the future of the apostolate . . .

Yes, in an extraordinary, life-changing demonstration of God’s power Jesus had risen from the dead:––but as the days and weeks went by it became clear that something was about to change; that Jesus, in fact, would be leaving. What, then, would be the new normal for the disciples, and for the church they were commissioned to found? What??

“After his suffering,” Luke tells us, “Jesus presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the Kingdom of God.” This was the euphoric part. In fact it was just like the old days––better, actually. The days that followed the Resurrection were probably some of the happiest the disciples had ever known! In the blessed company of the Risen Christ, they walked together; they talked together; they ate together––as old friends do––and together, they dreamed about the coming Kingdom of God . . . and more.

Until, that is, a very solemn announcement by the Lord Jesus seemed to bring this to a halt:

“My dear disciples,” said Jesus, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” For John baptized with water––

but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

No wonder they then gathered around him and asked him––(no doubt anxiously)––“Lord, are you at this time going to restore, the kingdom to Israel?” In other words, “what’s coming down the road, dear Jesus? Now that you’re leaving us, what’s going to happen? What’s going to be the New Normal.”

Simply put, they were beginning to panic. With Jesus leaving the disciples had no idea what they were going to do, nor what the future would hold. Sound familiar? Ever been in that position? Ever been so overwhelmed by fear, i.e. of the future, or of change; or of suffering; or of the unknown, that you are not just sheltered-in-place (quite against your will), but actually frozen-in-place?? You can’t go back, of course––one can never go back­­––And yet you just can’t move forward either . . . . So you just feel trapped, or paralyzed??

These days I daresay it’s a very Covid thing. For fear of the dreaded coronavirus (and what might happen if you get it) ‘You can’t go out; you can’t stay in. You can’t lie down; you can’t get up. You can’t get going; you can’t stay still.’

The reply of Jesus to this impending paralysis is very clear. “My dear disciples, you who have been my dearest friends. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you,”––you will recall that’s what Jesus said his disciples in John 15––

“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. It’s not! . . .

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go 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 lo, I am with you, always, to the very end of the age.”

And with that, Jesus ascends into heaven. The disciples are in shock, it would seem. So much so that two angels are dispatched to address the situation. “Men of Galilee,” they say, “hey, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

It would seem that Jesus ascended into heaven without really telling them what the “new normal” would be like. Don’t you just hate that? People who don’t provide the explanation you’re looking for, or the instructions you feel you so clearly need??

Sheltering-in-place has resulted in most of us watching more television than usual. There’s more television out there than ever before, but one has to search carefully for the truly interesting.

One program I have discovered is the Great Canadian Baking Show, based on a UK show called The Great British Bake Off. While not a baker myself I have found it really fun to watch.

Each program has three rounds; in other words three baking challenges for the contestants, which are gradually eliminated week by week. The middle challenge for each program is called a “technical challenge,” which always comes with a set of instructions. The only problem is that the instructions are, at points, a little sketchy!!! with important details missing––how long to bake something, for example, or what temperature to set the oven, or when to add certain ingredients–– in order to challenge the contestants to “figure it out.” Frustrating? You better believe it’s frustrating. And some contestants are distinctly flummoxed––to put it mildly––.

But it’s either figure it out, or give up. And giving up is of course never an option.

“My friends,” says Jesus, in effect, “you have––and will have––everything you need to move forward; to be the church; to do ministry. And I want you to move out in ministry as never before! So get going!!!

Indeed, I daresay the Lord Jesus left the church with three extraordinary gifts, to inaugurate a new normal. They are:

Number one, the vision. The vision!

“Without a vision, the people perish,” insists the writer of Proverbs. But with vision, given by God, the sky is the limit. Of the coming kingdom of God, the prophet Joel recorded the following famous and extraordinary words, the words of God:

“And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be deliverance.”

The disciples were not only given hope, but visionary hope; hope with legs!

In 1947, the poet W. H. Auden wrote a lengthy poem in six parts, entitled––of all things––“The Age of Anxiety.” In it is a shockingly prophetic quartet of lines about loss of vision; about modern men and women, Auden wrote:

“We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.”

But the disciples had been given vision. They no longer wished to be ruined or die, thinking that Jesus was dead and hope was gone: instead, their minds of hearts were filled with the Kingdom of God. Fill your mind, and heart, and soul with the Kingdom of God, and you will never be without vision. Never.

Number two, the power.

It’s all very well to have vision, but you need the power to enact it. We moderns conceive power as what comes out of a wall outlet: and sure enough, unless we plug things in, so much of life comes to a halt. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”

––said Jesus––“and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And receive it they did!

Number three, the presence. Indeed, the ongoing presence of the Lord Jesus.

“Lo I am with you always,” he promised, “even to the end of the age.” Jesus is with us, even now. Even in your darkest moments, when fancy stalks outside reason, Jesus is with you––

not some monster in the world, nor some monster under our own beds.

Will Covid mark the end of the age? It’s tempting, and spooky, to think so. But as was true of the disciples, we simply don’t know. We simply don’t know. “It is not for us to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” But the gifts of God for the people of God, remain. When our work is to come to an end, we will know. In the mean-time: the in-between time between the coming of the Kingdom of God and its glorious consummation. The Now-and-not-yet time. We carry on.

Don’t you love the Carry-on sayings, which came from a very famous poster first created in Britain during the Second World War, to wit, Keep Calm and Carry on???

Well here’s one for now. Trust God and carry on!!! You have the vision! You have the power!

And you have the presence of God. Amen.