Everything in the New Testament is written with the apocalypse in mind
The writers of the New Testament really did think they were living in the end of the world. That’s why the Apostle Paul taught that marriage should only occur in desperate situations. That’s why the Jerusalem Church was so willing to share all of their money and resources in common. Jesus, himself, spoke the Olivet Discourse in the Gospels with the apocalypse in mind (see Matthew 24-25, Luke 21, Mark 13). For those Jewish Christians, the destruction of their beloved Temple by the deranged and wicked Nero was truly the end of the world. When those early Christians were declaring “Jesus is Lord,” it was to curb their anxiety that their Risen Lord, the Crucified One, had conquered death and would save them. They were awaiting Jesus’ final revelation: the Second Coming. Apocalypse literally means to unveil, or to unmask.
We are living in our own end of the world, too. Or at least, it can feel that way under quarantine. In just a few weeks, the whole world changed. Nonessential businesses are closed. The economy is crashing and is seemingly impossible to stimulate. Italy is overwhelmed. China is implementing draconian practices. And the U.S. is at a turning point. We can go the way of Italy or flatten the curve, as all the experts are leading us to do.
Our church is taking this matter seriously, as all Christians should
In Circle of Hope, we are heeding their advice. I was amazed at how quickly our church responded to the crisis at hand. We met online on Sunday. And my cynicism was shattered. I didn’t think we could have a meaningful televised experience, and then there it was, our community on the live chat loving on one another and making it clear that this dreaded plague would not stand between us. It was beautiful. We are beautiful. God is using us.
Honestly, I really do think this is an opportunity for American Christians to live into the reality of our faith. Christians are prepared for this and our faith designed for it. We are end-of-the-world people and death is not an obstacle for us. Because we don’t believe in life after death, we believe in the resurrection of the dead! Jesus died for us and he rose before us. This is the Easter message. That Jesus died once and for all, and was the first of us to rise. There is an apocalyptic quality to our faith that’s lost if we simply experience it under the largess of the United States.
Death is an enemy, not a friend
This is not meant to trivialize the real-world conditions we live in. Death is not a friend. Death is the enemy. Death is the culmination of sin. It expresses itself in our oppression and in our sickness. Covid-19 is a plague brought to us by our fallen world. And thusly, we act in a way that resists and fights death. We never invite it into our lives, but we act against it. We act in the name of giving life, preserving life, and extending life because the promise of our faith is eternal life. And that eternity starts now.
And so, our response to live in social isolation so that we don’t fall into even worse fate is a cruciform response to the plague. It is a Christian response. We are not acting in a cavalier fashion, because the death of Jesus, which deadens death, moves us to consider death seriously, knowing that without Christ is has the ultimate power over us. And so we don’t dance on death’s grave, but we live in awe at our Lord’s conquest, and in our own actions mimic His conquest. We act in faith, but we also act practically. That is the Christian duty. Though we serve the Crucified God who saves us from death and even this plague, we still must approach this matter practically and materially. We serve a God with a material impact on earth: yes, Jesus actually lived, died, and rose again. That’s why instead of operating in a metaphysical way as if our faith graduates us from material reality, we are actually taking our material reality more seriously because of the material consequence of the man Jesus. That’s why we are deciding to seize this apocalyptic moment to live fully in our faith. Who knew the revolution would happen on the Internet? But here we are.
We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed!
From 2 Corinthians 4:7-12:
But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.
We are saddened that we’ve lost our face-to-face connection, and so we don’t celebrate the opportunity to have “time alone,” but rather, we prudently use it. This means we actually learn to pray. We commit ourselves to contemplation. We study the scriptures, and respond to its ancient and modern interpreters.
But we do not let our isolating ruin our community. We commit to relating. We commit to loving. We commit to using the tools we have, which means we get over our pretension about “being online” to relate. We give someone a call when a text message is easier. We learn to not complain about our flooded inboxes, which were always just attempts to connect. We no longer see our friends longing to connect as a burden.
But we also don’t overstate our own plight. Yes, for many of us, social isolation is draining, I know. But this plague is deadly, it’s lethal. And our plight of being isolated is not immaterial, but we should not overstate its impact. But I know it is real, and I want to be sensitive to that. The most extroverted of us are going to feel unique pain as we bunker down, so don’t forget them. They are doing this for the greater good, but it will take a toll on them. Time alone will drain them. So reach out and remember them.
When we self-sacrifice, we are becoming more Human.
What it doesn’t mean is that we revel in this opportunity. We don’t allow our misanthropy to get the best of us. Even those of us who are energized by time alone should not act as if this is a blessing for our lack of boundaries. And for those of us who think these measures are excessive, harming the economy and the lives of the young and healthy, for the sake of the weak and elderly, I pray for a change in heart. Our religion is one of self-sacrifice for the greater good. Our Lord self-emptied, condescending to our humanity, for the sake of the world. Our cruciform witness demands a similar sacrifice for the sake of the lives of others. God was harmed for our sake. Our Lord did not die an ornamented death. It was a shameful one. One in which he cried out loud, as the Bible records.
Our self-sacrifice is not done with our own preservation in mind, but the least among us. We stay home also so that those who can help those affected most by this can risk their exposure. So we think of our public health and medical professionals who we are sacrificing for.
And our cruciform witness, even in this isolated time, bonds us more closely to the Human One. Even in isolation, when we bear one another’s burdens, we are becoming more like Jesus. We are becoming more Human even in this crisis, even in this plague.
We are saved for this moment. We have a witness to bear. We are self-sacrificing for one another for the greater good. We are self-emptying in order to preserve life. We soberly consider this moment, deepen our disciplines, but dare not allow our community to be sacrificed. We will still love, are loved, and include the stranger. In our despair, in this plague, in our crisis, we will still follow Jesus. Jesus calls us to care for the least among us, at our expense. And in caring we become more like Jesus. Opportunities abound, even at this dreaded hour. God be with you.