As I went up to my computer to pray
Studying about that good ol’ way
And who shall show up on the screen
Good Lord, show me the way
These somewhat cynical lyrics came to mind as I trudged upstairs and into my office to gather with members of my parish for a weekly service – gather, that is, pandemic-style: each of us home alone, gazing into the screen before us.
Like many, I’ve gotten more or less used to a shrunken life in the COVID-19 era. Isolation is never easy but being cut off from one’s brothers and sisters in faith is, I find, hardest of all. What was once my favourite day of the week – Sunday – is now the toughest. Not being able to worship inperson together makes the harsh isolation of the pandemic even more searing, like salt being rubbed into a wound.
We’re all in this together, I told myself resignedly as I turned on my computer for our Zoom gathering. I reminded myself that thousands of other Christians are also worshipping in this way.
My spirits lifted somewhat as the faces of other parishioners came into view on my screen. Then our gospel reading worked its magic:
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’… A week later his disciples were again in the house… Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:24-29)
Locked away. Living in fear. Yet Jesus is present.
In this anxious time of “house arrest,” the words of this familiar passage resonated with me as they never had before. As we reflected on this scripture, I realized that numerous other Christians have experienced fear and uncertainty as well. And by pointing out the marks of his crucifixion to Thomas, Jesus reminds us that he too has suffered — and in fact has suffered much more than us. But suffering is not the most powerful thing about Easter. Nor is fear and anxiety. They can’t defeat the power of resurrection.
As we reflected on this passage and what it means for us, I gazed upon the iconic painting of Jesus in my office by well-known Christian artist Michael O’Brien. As I gazed into Jesus’ eyes, he spoke to me in a new way – reaching past my fear and anxiety and into my soul. I wasn’t just looking at a lovely painting: I was connecting with Jesus in a new, deeper way – just as members of our parish connected with each other during our service in a new way. At first, our online dialogue moved in fits and starts, liked a stalled car’s engine coming to life. But gradually more of us felt comfortable enough to speak and offer our ideas.
One of us noted that if we just sit in fear, it paralyzes us. That led us to think about what we could do to help some of those in our community who were hardest hit by the pandemic. They include homeless people who are housed in a large recreation centre so they can be safely far enough apart from each other. Yet this arrangement has also meant that they have little to do to pass the time. One parishioner suggested we investigate whether computer tablets and iPads might be donated to our homeless neighbours so they could stay in touch with the world beyond the recreation centre’s walls. Others chimed in to discuss this proposal further.
I left our service with a greater sense of the peace that Jesus talks about – and with a deeper appreciation that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, including pandemics, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.