The next time we will see each other face-to-face I’ll likely be wearing one of these. I have different colours and types for different occasions …. (you can see them by viewing the video sermon at http://www.faithottawa.ca on Sunday, May 24, 2020).
I know the mask may present a barrier. It covers half of our face. It’s uncomfortable. It may inhibit us from feeling normal in our interaction. It’s a telling symbol of the times we find ourselves in. That a physical barrier needs to be in place to protect us all.
Paradoxically, the mask underscores how inter-connected we are. In forming this new habit – wearing a mask every time we leave the home – we are becoming aware of how each of us is connected to others.
The unity we experience is not just visible. It’s not just about those who are evidently symptomatic – who are coughing, riding high fevers, and are very sick. We now know that over 40% of COVID-19 is transmitted by people who don’t have any symptoms at all.
Of course, we didn’t need COVID-19 to introduce us to the idea of our common humanity. Especially as Christians we have always affirmed our inherent connection, our ‘unity in Christ’. Whether we say we participate in the invisible, spiritual unity, or hopefully sometimes even participate in some wonderful visibleexpressions of unity, we are united nonetheless.
In this last Gospel selection in the Easter season, the lectionary invites us to reflect on some of Jesus’ last words to his followers when he was physically with them on earth. John 17 represents what is known as the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus for his disciples, his benediction, his blessing to them as a human being. This is his message to them – human to human.
And he prays for our unity. His prayer affirms our connection in the Body of Christ which is the church. And on earth, we are interconnected, interdependent in Christ.
How do we live that interdependence, as Christians, as followers of Christ?
Jesus prayed, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world … Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”
“I am no longer in the world,” Jesus says, “but they are…” Jesus is no longer in the world. But weare. We are the hands, the feet the heart of Christ in the world for each other. We participate in the answer to Jesus’ prayer. You could say, in a sense, we are the answer to Jesus’ prayer.
“We cannot jump over this world, or its woundedness, and still try to love God. We must love God through, in, with, and even because of this world.”This is the message Christianity initiated, proclaimed, and encouraged, and what Jesus modeled. We were made to love and trust this world, “to cultivate it and take care of it”. The answer to Jesus’ prayer is not in some far-off heavenly realm. The crux of it all lies here, right now, and in this place and time.
The church has left the building these last few months. But the church has not disappeared. We are in the world. And we need each other. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. There is no avoiding it, especially now.
People wear masks not to protect themselves. We wear them to protect others from possibly catching the virus from us. That is why care-givers wear masks and all sorts of other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
May this mask-wearing season of our lives be a sign and symbol of our care for one another. We don’t just say, “Stay safe”. We practice it when we are together in whatever way. Our togetherness then becomes a Christ-sign of caring for the other. When we return to the building – the day will soon come – our main focus – as it always has been implied but now fully apparent – is the care for each other.
For now, every time you pick up the phone and call someone, we are the church.
Every time you send a short email to check in on someone else, we are the church. Every time you pray, read scripture, say words of compassion and nurture thoughts and feeling of love for another, we are the church.
Every time you don a mask – even though it is awkward and not very comfortable, but you do it anyway for the sake of others, we are the church.
Every time you do this for the wellbeing and care for another, we are the church. United in Christ Jesus. For all time. And in every place.