Guest Column by Roger Hudson
By showing up for worship you put yourself on the side of life at a time when a tiny virus is bringing the whole world to its knees.Easter Sunday sermon, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, U.M.C., April 12
“Showing up for worship you put yourself on the side of life…”
I love this Easter thought. And would add the hope that showing up for worship during this pandemic, even if only digitally, cements a growing conviction within enough of us that things cannot return to normal. Theology, economy, community — these must all emerge in new ways in the post COVID-19 world if we are to get back up off our knees in an enduring and peaceful way.
Jesus would call this “new way” the kin(g)dom of God. But it should not to be confused with civilization.
Describing a brutal massacre of civilians — women and children, some only a few months old, of the village, Distomo in Greece on Saturday, June 10, 1944, by the 4th Armored Police Division of the Waffen SS because of an anti-German ambush by local partisans during World War II, John Dominic Crossan calls such acts of vengeance barbaric. He notes further that civilization is supposed to save us from acts of barbarism like this, even during times of war.
The sad truth is that often civilization has not. Does not. Will not. Save us. And that’s because its development has always been accompanied by escalating violence. Flint became bronze became sword became cannon became nuclear bomb. And all have been used in war. Is it just a question of time that intercontinental ballistic missiles, or worse, are too?
Civilization has not saved us from barbarism. It did not save Jesus. It did not save the Jewish nation. It didn’t even save civilization itself as the enemies of Rome helped defeat it. And today, the barbarism of civilization still wreaks havoc on the kin(g)dom of God of which there are beautiful signs all around us.
So, what will save us from civilization? At war with itself and nature by pitting nation against nation through wars and relentless competition for endless GNP growth, civilization is turning the “It is good” of God into a nightmare of global warming, social and economic disintegration, and ecosystem collapse.
Life itself is being compromised, and the COVID-19 pandemic, the “tiny little virus bringing the whole world to its knees,” offers us a brief opportunity, not only to show up for worship on Easter Sunday, but to show up for the kin(g)dom of God during these next Great 50 Days of Easter as the world struggles to find a vision to forge the different future that is so needed.
But what will this vision look like?
The answer begins and ends with love. Love as the way of the cross that always ends in an Easter, a resurrection.
Emergence theology is wrestling with this in fresh ways within the Christian tradition. If God is love and theology is about the ways of a loving God, then Lent is the time, as Brian D. McLaren suggests, for “an honest self-examination of our maturity in love and a renewal of our commitment to grow in it.” And this is especially needed now, during an Easter when the world is challenged by this global pandemic.
So, “Do we love like Jesus?” Or do we love as civilization loves — with guns, missiles or threats to dominate in our back pockets?
Do we love even our enemies, as Jesus did? Or do we circle the wagons and prepare for battle like civilization always does?
Jesus embraced the cross, willing to surrender his own life rather than take the life of another. And in doing so, he lived. And love became stronger than both death or the threat of death. His example spawned a movement of loving Christ-followers who collectively helped move the good of civilization towards the community of the kin(g)dom because death itself had lost its grip on them.
Where are such Christ-followers today?
Do we love like Jesus? Our challenge in this post-COVID-19 world is to follow his example by being discipled to “say ‘no’ to the ways of the sword, ‘yes’ to the ways of the Lord” and to practice nonviolence as Jesus did.
The Great 50 Days this year began in the isolation of our own homes on Easter Sunday morning with the whole world on its knees. It’s time, finally, to learn to do as Jesus did, “celebrate the revolutionary power of death-defying love,” and to do this both in our congregations and alongside all people in the global diversity of many cultures, faiths and practices.
Learning the non-violent way of Jesus will not be easy. There seems to be no ready road map in our Christian world to learn how to practice nonviolence and especially the spirituality that supports it. But at Covenant Methodist here in Spokane we are making a small start.
The Peace and Creation Care Team is learning from Universal Saint/Friend of God/Seventh Story Hero, Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido. “He believed “Budo” (the martial arts way) is not felling the opponent by force, nor is it a tool to lead the world into destruction with arms, but it is accepting the spirit of the universe, keeping the peace of the world, and correctly producing, protecting and cultivating all things in nature.”
We have hung an icon of Sensei Ueshiba beneath the 1,000-plus peace cranes in our sanctuary during this season of Easter, bringing his witness into our worship space. Looking to Jesus as the perfecter of our faith, perhaps we will yet learn from Ueshiba how our swords can be sheathed by Trinity in a love that is stronger than death.
Isn’t that what resurrection is? A love that is stronger than death! A love that fearlessly and nonviolently challenges all forces of civilization that have done violence to community and creation. Post COVID-19 we don’t want those forces back!
It really is time to “show up” for worship. And for practice. The nonviolent love of Jesus towards people and creation beckons. Things cannot return to normal. Theology, economy, community — these must all emerge in new ways in the post COVID-19 world if we are to get back up off our knees in an enduring and peaceful way. It’s what creation groans and longs for — the revealing of the sons and daughters of God, citizens, wringing the good out of civilization.