Earlier in the pandemic the English comedian Michael McIntyre offered a skit in which he went to visit a fortune teller before March 2020. The fortune teller (Michael in a turban and mustache) tells Michael (who just looks like Michael) that a year from now he won’t be a comedian any longer; instead he will be an amateur hair cutter and substitute teacher. The fortune teller uses words that mean nothing to Michael in his life like “lockdown” and “social-distancing.” When the fortune teller sees in his crystal ball that Michael and his wife are excited about a trip, Michael lights up. He and his wife had been hoping to take a trip abroad for years now. But the fortune teller shakes his head and says, actually you’re just leaving the flat to run errands ... with masks and hand-sanitizer.
Like much of Michael’s comedy, this is both funny and painfully truthful. And I find myself wondering (with delight and perhaps a little fear) what might be Michael’s skit a year from now after visiting the fortune teller again “before March 2021.” Where will we be a year from now? What new words will we have to add to our vocabulary? Will we still be excited when we can do an outdoor worship with 12 people in attendance as long as we mask and social distance and use hand-sanitizer?
Our scientific fortune teller, Dr. Fauci, has said two things this week to both get my hopes up and then turn then to dust: 1. We should be doing something like normal by Christmas. And 2. We are likely to still be wearing masks in 2022. After hearing the first, I allowed myself the dream image of us all gathering with candles at church, being close together with great joy, and singing Silent Night in a way that would make life full and rich in a whole new way. Then, two days later, Dr Fauci said #2, and I figure we will be wearing masks and perhaps not allowed to sing at all yet! Still, like Michael’s excitement about leaving the apartment to run errands, just having Christmas services would be something to celebrate!
All of this is to say: we are in a strange place. This wilderness of forty days that is Lent didn’t quite end with Easter last year in 2020 and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end with Easter in 2021 either. Or maybe even Christmas! Who knows?
So what do we do? We can sit around and be sad. Or we can try to find someone to blame: Dr. Fauci, the Bishop, the Governor .... Or we can look for the angels ready to meet us in the wilderness. This year, it’s hard not to notice that when Jesus ends his fast in the desert by returning to “civilization,” he discovers immediately that his cousin, John the Baptist, is in prison. Yet, met with this difficult news he says: “The time is fulfilled! The Kingdom of God is near! Believe the Good News!” (See Mark 1:12-15.)
What resilience and adaptability! Jesus comes out of the wilderness famished and worn, hears of John’s arrest, and still dances with the Gospel, the Good News! And we are called to follow this one.
As we move towards whatever this year ahead brings, let’s use this month’s motto: March! March, know- ing that the normal that we miss wasn’t ever really all that normal. March, remembering the history of the people of God who make it through flood, leave home, leave slavery, wander to the voice of a burning bush, are exiled in Babylon, and brought low by the Romans. And that only gets us through to the Acts of the Apostles and the birth of the church! The church has been born and reborn, formed and transformed through 2000 years. It’s not the institution or trappings that is holy and unchanging; it is the people called to march in the Good News of God. What the church looked like to me when I first heard my call to priest- hood about 36 years ago is thoroughly different from what the church looks like today. And these days, between pandemic and everything else in the world, the church is changing so fast it’s hard to keep up. We are called to march in these days with the Good News. We are called to march grounded in the un- changeable Truth of God. But the ground we are marching on is changing by the minute and will keep changing. We may be wearied by the changes and chances of this world, but the miracle of God’s love marches on. God has planted us as individuals, as a congregation, and as part of a larger church marching in these very peculiar days. We cannot ignore these changes or we won’t know how to bring the Good News to them.
Whatever comes, I am glad to be marching beside you all and behind Jesus. And I plan on believing in the Good News through it all. The trick is going to be, figuring out our marching orders in the world that moves faster and in ways we can hardly imagine. We cannot just fall back on habit or what we used to always do. We aren’t in Egypt any more. And once we get through this wilderness of pandemic, we are going to arrive in the promised land with our God marching along with us the whole way.
Here’s another dream image I have. Instead of Michael doing his comedy skit, I hope that in March 2022, I am standing, preaching beside you all and pretending to be a fortune teller talking about all the ways the people of Kingston Parish have lived with all the chances and changes to bring Good News to a community and a world nearly overcome by un- certainty. I want to be able to say that the faithful- ness I see in you all this year has blossomed in new ways to meet new days in 2021 so that the Kingdom of God is nearer, and more and more people have discovered the Good News that not only survives masks and social distancing, online worship and closed church offices, but that has discovered the way of Christ to make of these changes and chances, these days, God’s fullness. Let’s march!
The Very Rev. Gary Barker