See, I am Making All Things New
By the Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering
Often Episcopalians will be heard to say, “We are an Easter people,” as a way of explaining our faith. I’ve always struggled with this turn of phrase because as Episcopalians, we aren’t super great at letting anything die (I think we all know the joke: how many Episcopalians does it take to change a lightbulb? Change? My grandmother gave that lightbulb; we can’t change it!), but the only way to Easter Sunday is to pass through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday — days full of loss, fear, death and pain. For many of us, this past year has felt like a series of Maundy Thursdays, Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays over and over again. With the release of vaccines speeding up in this country, many of us are excited about the shift into a moment of Easter, of resurrection, of hope. But the hard part about Easter, that we often overlook in the excitement of egg hunts, brunch and spring unfolding, is that resurrection is not a return to what was before Good Friday but is moving into something altogether new. Jesus does not return to walking around the Holy Land with the disciples healing and teaching. The disciples don’t recognize him at first in some accounts. It is clear that on the other side of resurrection, things are not the same as they were. (Where I’ve noticed that resurrection causes a big change was on a recent trip to the Petrified Forest National Park, the wood looks like wood, but is stone, what had died became something completely different.)
I’m not a huge fan of the book of Revelation, but there is one line toward the end that has always struck me as important: “See, I am making all things new!” (Rev. 21:5) John hears this after witnessing the old world pass away and the new one be created as God makes God’s dwelling place among the people. John tells us that God will wipe every tear from our eyes, as the old things have passed away. (Similar language is also found in Ezekiel 37:26-27.) This is where I find hope this Easter season. The past year has laid bare the brokenness of our society, but it has also shown the resiliency of the human heart. I do not want to return to the way things were, for the way things were was not great, if we are being perfectly honest. Over the past few weeks, I have read countless articles about how the pandemic has laid bare brokenness that existed before COVID and that will follow us into the next chapter of life unless we begin to unpack and address them, from undervaluing early childhood care/education, to unhealthy work/life boundaries, from racial disparities to socioeconomic issues. While these articles name the grim realities we are all dealing with, I am also aware that during this past year, real fruit has been born in our lives. I hear people often say, I don’t want everything back from before the pandemic. Old and new swirl together in this moment as many of us feel like we are standing on the precipice of resurrection. But resurrection takes work, and it cannot happen without death.
As I think about Easter, I am really curious about what those things are that we learned this year that we don’t want to forget, because I think those things that we learned about ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities, our churches, and so forth, are some of the tools we’ll need to fully join in on resurrected life. I try to stop people when they say they don’t want to go back to the way things were to ask what they mean. For some, this means that the work they’ve done on being an anti-racist; for others it is the ways they have connected with their neighbors; and for some it boils down to being less busy, not wanting to commute again, or being more present with their family. I worry that we will get so caught up in the tsunami of ‘get back to normal’ that we will forget these things. We will forget that our children were over-scheduled, that our family lives were fractured by long working hours and commutes, that we were disconnected from our communities by being busy, or that the work of justice requires each of us to participate in it. We will simply go back to filling our time with all the things. Some people have found real joy in the pandemic, from online events that expose us to things we either couldn’t afford to do or didn’t know existed, to expanding our community through worshipping at other churches or joining a dance group in another state. We’ve found new ways of experiencing the world and expanding the opportunity for other voices to be heard. This past year I have been overwhelmed with gratitude for all the new people showing up at UTO things, simply because it was free, accessible or they just have more time to join. Zoom certainly has its challenges, but one advantage is that everyone is truly welcome, regardless of vacation days or income to cover participation. This Easter season, as we in the United States receive our vaccinations and emerge from restrictions and lockdown, I hope we will remember that resurrection is not the return to what was, but a call to what could be. In that moment, as we step out into what will be, let us give thanks for those things that kept us safe; and let us consider the things that we did prior to the pandemic that are no longer serving us well so that we can make space within our hearts, minds, and days to embrace what will be, as we hear God call to us, “See, I am making all things new.”