Despite all the chaos, fear and confusion of these past several weeks, it’s incredible to me the absolute inundation of stories about everyday people who are stepping up, going out of their way, and caring for those around them in truly remarkable ways. This, I think, is the silver lining in this current crisis. I’m sure you each have a handful of stories you have witnessed, contributed to, and benefitted from personally. What strikes me now is this amazing opportunity we have to not only be the hands and feet, the body of Christ; but to encourage the ones who are putting the image of God on display… and don’t even realize that’s why they’re loving and serving people the way that they are.
A popular video was being shared last week—John Lennon’s famous ballad “Imagine”, sung by a number of celebrities. The video (and the song itself) has been ridiculed and renounced for many reasons. Particularly relevant for believers in Jesus are the lines calling for us to “imagine there’s no heaven… no hell… no religion, too.” Regardless of the execution of the video, the way it was sung, the privilege of those singing, I’d like to highlight the intent of the video. The sentiment is a good one. And theologically, not that far off. Bear with me. I don’t expect John Lennon, or Gal Gadot for that matter, to accurately articulate everything I believe. But when I hear this song, I think of the kingdom of God. The way things ought to be. The way things will be when God makes all things new.
Especially in times of crisis, we see a yearning for the way things ought to be. We see people stepping up to meet needs in ways we may have been overlooking before. We see it in the way neighbors are caring for each other. People are donating time and money to various organizations who are making sure no one goes without. On Facebook, I can hardly scroll through my timeline without seeing a friend call out the hoarding and stockpiling of groceries and medical supplies. It’s become common to recognize the hard work and courage of those on the front lines of this crisis, who are daily in harm’s way. Restaurants are preparing free meals for families with children.
There’s an ache for the time when this will all be behind us and life can finally get back to normal. And yet, if life actually “got back to normal”, I fear we would be wasting opportunities. If any of these current activities and perspectives were to stop once coronavirus had run its course, we would be denying ourselves a beautiful glimpse into what the kingdom of God looks like. Yes, what we’re seeing and doing right now—serving and loving others in the most practical of ways—is what we are called to do as good humans. Good neighbors. We should be doing these things as good citizens… let alone as citizens of the kingdom. But it is the additional understanding of why we do this as followers of Jesus that points us to the good news. We do this—all of us—because we are made in God’s image. We are all made to reflect his goodness, love, mercy, and desire to help those in need. We are all made to help bring about his plan to restore the world to himself. One day, there will be no need for greed or hunger. Nothing to kill or die for. Heaven comes to earth, death will be destroyed, and even religion will lose its meaning as we know it. The endgame of the church is not universal religion: it’s the forever, creation-wide reality of renewal and reunion with God. That’s the kingdom, the new earth as described in the book of Revelation.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “God has set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” I think what we’re seeing right now from people who do not claim to follow Jesus, who genuinely want to love their neighbors or are crying out in fear and anxiety of the unknown, is a demonstration of that ache for eternity. One philosopher wrote, “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him… though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only… by God himself.”
What are the ways those around you are seeking to fill that ache of eternity? That hole only God can fill? Some are taking John Lennon’s lead in an attempt to rally others to this beautifully imagined world. Some are dulling the ache with food or drink or exercise or sleep or overworking or binge watching tv. Some are asking questions about that eternity. How will you contextualize the good news that Jesus offers into these situations? How will you translate the hope that you have to those who fear, grieve, panic as if they have no hope? How will you encourage those who are stepping up and loving those around them—perhaps like Paul giving context to the worship of the Athenians in Acts 17 (look it up!)—to speak into the reason they do the good things they do, because they are made in God’s image.
On a personal note, I identify with those who are struggling to adapt. I am right there with those who sometimes (often) fear, and grieve, and panic, as if I have no hope. I need this message as much as the rest of the world does. In this strange time of social distancing, isolation can really just be a euphemism for loneliness. I know many of you are affected by illness, loss of income, depression, anxiety, and may be feeling trapped in your situation. This truth is for you, too: there is hope. Jesus is King, and invites us to participate in bringing about his kingdom. Imagine.
“In the midst of isolation… we experience the loss of so many things. Let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side.”
—Pope Frances, in a message regarding COVID-19