Jesus' Words for Getting Through Self-Isolation
The Rev. Andria Skornik
Jesus' Words for Getting Through Self-Isolation
We are now five weeks into self-isolating. And, based on different articles I’ve read, and people I’ve talked to, I’d say this is the week of, “I’m done.” Parents saying they’ve had it with Covid school. Others talking about how they just can’t shake the exhaustion or that they really want to see their grandkids. This week we’ve also seen a rise in people protesting the “stay home” orders.
While early on we launched in with our projects and made color coded schedules, now it’s like the energy for that is wearing off. As one article said, it’s like being in the movie Groundhog’s Day where every day is like the one before. And even with some of the new projections about reopening, they aren’t exactly ideal. There’s talk of restaurants opening at half capacity with the tables spread out and wait staff in masks. Golf being the only sporting event for the foreseeable future. And if you have young kids, this idea of taking them back out into public, but trying to hold them back, especially when they love to hug everyone and put their mouths on everything, is a little frightening. As a parent, I wonder if thats even the lesson we want to teach our kids — to restrain themselves and hold back their affection and explorations.
With all of that in mind, how are we to get through this next phase?
In wondering about these things, we couldn’t have asked for a better gospel. Because just as we participate in today’s service from our homes, in isolation, our story just so happens to be about a time when the disciples were also self-isolating. Of course, it was for a different reason. In their case, they were afraid that the people who killed Jesus would come after them. But think about the similarities. They were confined to the one place, stuck with the same people, having to send someone out on occasion to get the groceries. They were anxious about the possible dangers of going out. And they were worried about what would come next. Just as Covid-19 has changed the landscape of our future, for them, Jesus’ death probably changed everything about what they thought their lives would look like.
But then, on the Sunday after the resurrection, Jesus appeared to them in the house where they were hiding out. He gave them some words of encouragement. And it changed things for them.
Because the next thing we see in John’s gospel is that the disciples were excited and confident in sharing about the risen Christ. Soon after that they were out at the Sea of Galilee fishing. Or, as we read in Acts, it’s not long after that that they’re out speaking to crowds, healing people, and getting the early church community going. That encounter was a turning point for them. So what did Jesus say that helped them, and how might it speak to us?
The first thing that was very important is that he encouraged them to forgive. Now remember, these men were not just hiding out because they were afraid. They were probably also hiding out because they were ashamed. Though they had proudly walked alongside Jesus in his ministry and on Palm Sunday with all the excitement, they weren’t there for him when he was put on trial or at his death. Yet, when Jesus came to them it was with no judgement or shaming. He had already forgiven them on the cross. And some of his first words to them were encouraging them to forgive, which they would’ve needed. They would’ve needed to be able to forgive themselves for what they had done. They would’ve needed to forgive each other to be able to do the work that came next, and get through the growing pains of doing that work without Jesus, mess-ups and all. They would need to live in that space of graciousness.
As we look at our current situations, we also need to keep this encouragement about forgiveness in sight. Because we’re going through a lot. Whether we’re slammed with work, overwhelmed with responsibilities, or not, psychologically and emotionally, all of this is very heavy. So we need to be quick to forgive when we mess up or someone else does, or when we fall short of our hopes or expectations, whether that’s not having the energy for all that’s on our to-do lists, or not getting our kids through all their lessons. We need to be gentle to ourselves and each other, and extend the same grace that Jesus did.
Then the other thing Jesus said that is really important to hold onto right now is that he told them… “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Now often when I’ve read passages like this I’ve thought of being sent as being sent to go out and proselytize — going door to door, or standing on a street corner handing out tracks. I don’t know why my mind goes there, because by and large that’s not what I’ve been taught. And more importantly, it’s not what Jesus is saying here.
He says, As the Father has sent me, so I have sent you. And how did God send Jesus? God sent Jesus to love, to heal, to feed, to call out injustice, to empower people to love and serve, and share the good news, which is that God is a God of love who wants us to love. We are being sent as Jesus was sent, which is being sent to meet some very real needs in our world.
Just think about what being sent as Jesus was being sent means now, in the time we’re in: We’re seeing food insecurity, which already was a problem, becoming even greater. We hear about people waiting all night at food banks to get groceries. In Oregon, places that give meals more than doubling the number of people they serve. And a recent Oregon Live article talked about concern that the local food system is not currently set up to handle the increased need. And here, Jesus is sending us to feed. We do this in our Saturday ministry, what else might it mean?
Or, with the threat of the virus, the need for healing is great. Medical staff and scientists are devoting themselves to this work in incredible ways, in many cases putting themselves at risk to do it. And beyond that there are other forms of healing needed too. I remember in my first pregnancy, I got very sick and there weren’t any medical treatments without putting the pregnancy at risk. But it was people in my church who sent cards, made care packages, and my husband who looked after me that eased the pain and helped me get through. Jesus is sending us to heal. What does that mean for us right now?
Or, as we’re seeing the way people of color are being affected disproportionately by the coronavirus, it reveals injustice in our social systems and economy. We need people who are raising awareness about these kinds of things, as reporters today are. We need people who are figuring out how to course correct so that such inequality does not exist. Jesus sends us to call out injustice. What does that look like for each of us?
In a time where there is lots of disparaging news, and people are on edge, we need people who proclaim the good news of God’s love and live from a sense of God’s abundance. Jesus sends us to proclaim the good news and embody God’s love. I can’t think of anything more needed right now. And I know we all have goals and pressures and things we’re trying to do. But really, if we can get through this with the love of God in hearts, then we will have done what matters.
As God sent Jesus to love, heal, feed, call out injustice, and Jesus is sending us out to do the same. And I believe that what gets us out of our discouragement or the metaphorical room that we, like the disciples, may feel we’re stuck in, even if we never leave the house. It gets us out of ourselves long enough to see what God is doing and that we’re called to join in.
I got to experience this this last week I had the chance to go to a store (off hours, with mask and sanitizer) and buy travel sized toiletries, paper towels and socks for people in our Saturday Outreach ministries. And it was absolutely the best feeling. Probably in part because I hadn’t been to a store in 5 weeks. But I think even more because I was getting to do something to help. To do the things that Jesus has sent me to do. And I’ve heard that from the people who have been responding to our calls for support. Without even leaving their homes, we’ve had people sewing masks, going through cupboards finding supplies, calling people, making donations. Similarly they’ve been sharing what it’s meant to them to be able to do that.
If you’re feeling a little trapped, exhausted, worried — all of the things that come with the territory for the time we’re in — try to remember those things that Jesus said to the disciples: Be gracious to yourself and those around you, and remember that we are being sent as Jesus was sent. We may still need to be in our homes for the time being, but there’s still so much we can do.
And this will be the case even when things begin to reopen. Yes, it will be different. And some of the differences will be hard. But we will figure out how to adapt. We will figure out how to show love in new ways. Through my son’s preschool Zoom class we’ve learned already you can give a really good virtual hug.
We will figure out what it means for us to be sent. And though we may not be able to give handshakes and hugs right away, there will always be a way for us to give our whole hearts.