I confess that I was not ready to pastor a church through a pandemic.
In seminary, we tried to prepare ourselves to be ready for anything and everything. In the classroom by day and around bonfires at night we shared holy conversations about what ministry might look like in the most extreme circumstances. We talked about hypothetical tragedies, nonsensical violence, wars, shootings, natural disasters, political upheaval… you name it. But for all our discussions we never thought to talk about how to be the church through a plague.
I suspect that’s probably true for every other area of life too.
I doubt many business owners opened shop with a “break glass in case of global pandemic” plan. We know many restaurants found themselves flatfooted and trapped. Educational institutions from preschools through grad schools had to “build the planes as they flew them.” I doubt nursing home staff members were prepared to turn spouses and children away from their loved ones for months on end. I doubt ICU nurses were prepared to be surrogate loved ones for those who did not wish to die alone. We know that everyone who lost someone in the last year, whether it was Covid or something else, was not ready to say goodbye.
And, I think that’s part of what made this last year and a half so difficult… we weren’t ready.
Truth be told, I’m not all that sure we’re really ready for much of anything we pretend to be so prepared for. I mean, seriously, is really possible to prepare for tragedy, calamity, or disaster? We might know the rug is about to be pulled from under us, but is that information enough to keep us from falling? Will that make the fall hurts less? My Guess is probably not…
In scripture, Jesus frequently tells his disciples to, “Be ready.” He does so both in parables and outright. In fact, themes of readiness and preparedness saturate the scriptures.
“Keep awake; watch at all times.”
1 Peter 5:8
In general, scripture teaches us to be ready. We should note, however, that the readiness we are called to is not one that prevents us from being harmed or hurt. In scripture being ready does not shield one from life’s storms or global pandemics. Moreover, being ready does not promise protection from tragedies or pain. Rather, the readiness we are called to is a readiness to receive Jesus and a readiness to respond.
No one was ready for the pandemic, not me and dare I say, not our church either, but were ready to respond. The next question is, are we ready to respond to what is next? (Trust me, it might not be a pandemic but there will be something next.) Will we be light for those who dwell in darkness? Will we hoard for ourselves or feed the hungry? Will we speak out against tyranny and injustice or retreat? Will we serve and sacrifice or live selfishly and lavishly? Are we ready to respond with forgiveness when necessary? With compassion when it is called for? With mercy for those in need?
Speaking of readiness, I lament and marvel at what is happening in Miami, FL. I lament the collapse of that condo and the possibility that it might have been avoided. I think it is safe to say NO ONE was ready for that. NO ONE. But I marvel at how quick some people were ready to respond. I marvel at their readiness to respond with fortitude, courage, sacrifice, and resilience. That readiness to respond is ultimately what we as Christians are called to do as a part of our everyday life.
Keep awake, Jesus says. Keep Watch, he reiterates. Be ready to respond.
May we be ready to respond with prayers, ready to respond with praise, and, like our ancestors through the centuries, may we be ready to respond with enduring faithfulness and courage.
In the Way,
Pastor Scott Hannon