These are not normal times. We may never return to the ‘old normal’, but have to prepare for the ‘new normal’. Someone has written recently that this is reminiscent of the experience of the early disciples of Jesus, in the period between Easter and Pentecost. Just as we are now in that same period of the Christian year, they too were facing an unknown and uncertain future, but with hope. The usual way of expressing this period is one of waiting for the spirit to bring courage and energy to inspire.
The friends of Jesus had been hiding away in a closed upper room following the crucifixion. Then they experienced the presence of Jesus again but had to wait for the signal before they could begin to spread the news to the ends of the earth. Is it too fanciful to compare that experience to ours of lockdown and looking forward to release? What may well be similar is that the future will not be the same as the past. We will not emerge from lockdown into the same world that we left. Likewise, the first disciples were change-makers of their world.
Our places of worship still remain closed, even if some other areas of life are beginning to be opened up again. Yet, our faith is still being practised. In fact, in many ways it has become more relevant and in tune with the response of other groups in society. We all want to help each other, reach out with helping hands, and express concern for each other because we are all in this together. We are learning that it is not our buildings that make our faith; nor our rituals that bring us peace. It is our relationships, with God and each other, that are the vital expression of faith.
The future is not clear. But it is likely to be different. We have found new means of communicating, different ways of pastoral care, and perhaps even changed priorities for our life. Many are saying we do not want to return to the old ways. Our world and its climate need us to behave differently. Inequality and injustice also demand a re-ordering of our social structures. It is a time for expressing the Good News in new words and in new ways.
We are still in the period of waiting for the word, ‘Go!’ but already some sense of the shape of things to come is emerging. A ‘new normal’ lies ahead, full of compassion, peace, simplicity, and a concern for the health of everyone. It may not be ‘normal’ but it will be new and full of promise.