Spring is in the air! In more ways than one we are beginning soon again. In our hearts and minds we are turning towards a new start.
With hope and anticipation we look forward to the time we can meet in person together again. We look forward to the time when we can experience the freedom to eat out, and meet in public spaces again.
The posture in our hearts of ‘starting over’ is an Easter theme. New beginnings. New life. Like the proverbial phoenix rising again out of dust. Jesus’ resurrection announces this truth. And if it’s true with Christ, it is true everywhere and for all.
We are all beginners, rookies on the field of life. In a sense, no matter how experienced we are. Whether we have been Christian all our lives or just a few days, each time we do anything in the awareness of God-with-us, we begin again. With this attitude of always a beginner, we are then ready for anything, and open to all possibilities.
How do we start over? Remember the basic pattern of liturgy: Someone must start it all. Someone initiates the conversation and says, for example, “the Lord be with you”. Those of us practiced in this way of worship will know that the conversation may start there but doesn’t end there. We respond, “And also with you.”
There is this back-and-forth flow dynamic between God’s word, God speaking and how we hear that and what we do with that. There is this back-and-forth flow between what God says to us and our response to God’s life and love in all and for all.
How do we begin again? How do we begin each time to strengthen this relationship? We can consider Jesus’ words in the Gospel for today: “I have come to give you life and life abundantly”; that is, we nurture our own lives as a responsiveness to God’s own life. Our lives share in the abundant vitality of God.
If anything, we may have been shocked by this crisis to consider how to live well. What we’ve had to stop, what we’ve had to pause, what we’ve had to close – and not just for a week or two as I suspect many of us initially expected but for months – all these restrictions are causing us to reflect on the meaning of it all and what might emerge from it.
I also suspect more and more of us are coming around to accepting that what does emerge will not be “back to normal” to the way it was right before we had to lock things down. What does emerge will likely, over time, be some kind of integration, blending, hybrid of what we have been doing in the last several weeks in physical distancing with social gathering.
During the Easter season we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. Images of Jesus tending flocks of sheep and holding the lost sheep over his shoulders populate our imaginations. Yet in the Gospel text today, specifically, Jesus self-identifies as the gate. This is one of many “I am” statements Jesus says in John’s gospel. He’ll go on later in the chapter to say “I am the good shepherd.” But here we dwell momentarily on the image of Jesus as the gate. The care, the love, the compassion of Jesus come to us through the gate.
A gate is a way through. A gate is a place of transition. A gate marks a boundary between what is and was to what can be, beyond. Jesus is that gate that beckons us forward.
We have found ourselves these days in seclusion and isolation. It is an in-between space in time, of being in that ‘already but not yet’ place. It is not a comfortable place to be in. It can be very disruptive to those especially who have lost jobs or have become sick, who have lost loved ones and who suffer fear and anxiety as a result.
And yet, rejecting, repressing and avoiding that in-between and uncertain place keeps us from entering and going through the gate. The gateway threshold, in Christ, is in truth a graced time, but often does not feel ‘graced’ in any way. Because moving through the gate, as slow and as long as this feels like, keeps us struggling with uncertainty, and calling so-called normalcy into creative question.
In such space, we are not in control. That is why Jesus must be the gate.
The gift of being in this place in the love of Christ is that Jesus guides and leads. Moving through this space, we do not do so on our own terms or strength. It is the love and faith of Christ that is the engine, the propulsion and momentum to new life beyond the gate.
The gate leads us to a new way of seeing and being in the world. It is the place, too, where we can begin to think and act in new ways. While we are betwixt and between now, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next, the very vulnerability and openness of this space allows room for something genuinely new to happen.
It’s hard now to know for sure what that ‘new thing’ exactly will be. At the same time, we can foster within us an approach to abundant life in Christ in such a way that gives life and energy to possibilities. Theologian Charles Eisenstein wrote about leaning into “a more beautiful world our hearts imagine can be possible.”
The new life post-COVID, even new life in Christ, is not “now all my problems are solved”. This new life is not “going back to the way things were.” The new life is not problem free nor tripping into some sentimental, perfect past.
It is a new thing. It is a new way of seeing the world as it is, whatever it is. The Prophet Isaiah captured this divine work in Hebrew poetry: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
An opportunity lies before us all. We may witness a global reset of priorities. Individually, too. What are those priorities? And let’s live into them, in the weeks and months to come. Remember the life-giving visions we have seen in the last month: the foxes trapesing across the Golden Gate bridge, the clear, smog-free blue skies over Los Angeles and Himalayan peaks never before seen, the new species being discovered because of human economic restraint, the clearer waters in Venice, the political will to give financial aid to the most vulnerable in the economic crisis and recently increase the hourly wage by $4/hour to essential health care providers.
Let these visions inspire us to enter the gate. Let these visions empower us to become what Jesus is calling us to be. Let new and abundant life fill you as you follow Jesus through.