Easter Sunday / Year B
Bishop Susan arranged for Dr. Melissa Perrin, a Chicago psychologist, to lead two recent zoom conversations with the clergy of our diocese. Dr. Perrin’s focused on pandemic fatigue and self-care by helping us to think about the year-long road we all have negotiated. We have been forced on the fly to reinvent life – everything from raising our children to work routines to engaging some of the most profound moments of life, such as tending to aging parents, comforting and caring for family and friends in crisis, and gathering for the seminal moments of life – birth, baptism, graduation, marriage, illness, and death. And we have done all of this largely while being isolated and required to utilize new technologies.
Many of us have operated under a self-generated sense of inadequacy and self-imposed cloud of judgment. We set very high standards for ourselves while at the same time seldom pause to acknowledge and appreciate our ability to navigate the unknown and hazardous waters of this unprecedented time. If anything in this sounds familiar and sheds light on why you have been struggling, then you understand why the bishop arranged for us to meet with Dr. Perrin.
She identified several byproducts of these stressful times which resonated with me. One was mental fogginess. I find myself being more forgetful than normal and not always sure how to launch into projects typically requiring little or no mental effort to initiate in the days of yore. I learned I am not alone in this. It is a consequence both of stress and of lethargy. We are working so hard to figure out how to do the normal things, thus it is difficult to focus. At the same time, while pretty much everything is on hold, little in our lives seems urgent. Among other things, for me this looks like being reminded on Monday I promised to cover Morning Prayer for Al on Tuesday and then completely forget my commitment 24 hours later.
After several clergy related their struggles and shortcomings, Dr. Perrin said she wished she had a stamp she could use to mark each of our foreheads with the word “normal”. While we might think we are the only one failing to keep up with the demands of this time, Dr. Perrin reminds us we are not. Where we feel inadequacy, Dr. Perrin identifies normalcy. So one aspect of self-care is to ease up on your personal expectations in order to recognize all you have been able to do in response to something not one of us was equipped for.
Dr. Perrin helped me to name something which I sense is on the rise as we begin to emerge from the grimmest moments of the pandemic. She calls it ‘covid shaming’, which reveals itself when others look down on you for where you are in all of this… and especially for where you are not:
· You mean you still don’t know have to zoom?
· I can’t believe you don’t want to go out to eat with us.
· What? Your church isn’t open for public worship yet?
I’m confident we could fill up our Facebook comments box with a daunting list of covid-shaming quips we have heard. The pressure is mounting for each of us individually and collectively to achieve a simultaneous and unified level of comfort and readiness as we move forward, but it is an expectation which strikes me as unfair and unwise. You will know when the time is right to go out to dinner. We as a church will know how and when we are ready to regather in person.
Dr. Perrin encouraged us to reflect about something very much at the heart of Easter: the difference between resuscitation and resurrection. Both involve an effort to act on something which has had the life go out of it, but differ in key ways. Resuscitation is a human effort. It involves taking the breath and energy of one person and forcing it upon another in a frantic effort to bring back to what was in a person who is lifeless. Resurrection, on the other hand, is a divine gift. The life it imparts and the process in which it occurs involves mystery. No human effort or initiative can make it happen because it is God’s doing. And while resurrection restores what was, it also adds much more; taking on shape and form not possible before and not defined or determined by human anticipation or imagination.
Resuscitation and resurrection. It has been a while since I interviewed for a new call, but I remember how, whether or not they used this language, almost every congregation was looking ‘to come back to life’ and was expecting their next priest to make it happen. “We need more members. What great evangelism programs do you have?” “Our Sunday School doesn’t appeal to young families. What will you do to fix it?” “We need more money. Tell us about your stewardship ideas.” Each interview felt like an inquiry into my certification in congregational CPR. Do I know how to breath my life into a lifeless church? Am I willing to keep up my efforts, even if it kills me in the end?
What I told those churches back in the day (and what I told the Search Committee here at St. Paul’s) is this: “I can describe what we have done at the church where I now serve, but I doubt it will do much for you here because we responded together to a specific set of circumstances and opportunities. What I can tell you is I will be with you and together we will look for God’s presence in our midst and respond to what God is seeking to do.” This I now realize is the difference between resuscitation and resurrection.
Image if Jesus merely had been resuscitated. He could have gone back to preaching and teaching and healing and no doubt his followers gladly would have followed. But God had something more grand in mind. God envisioned the defeat of death and the redemption of the world – a new beginning – only possible through the resurrection of the Son.
The on-going pandemic has changed the world and our lives in so many ways. After a year-long winter, it is finally beginning to feel like spring is near. There are some things which rightly need to be resuscitated. We need to roll up our selves, get to work, and restore the life which once was. But there are other things which will never be exactly what they were before. God is working to make these things new. Burial linens will be unwrapped, sealing stones will be rolled back, and resurrected life will emerge. May God grant us the wisdom to know which is which and may God draw us willingly and gratefully into what will be.