It didn’t take long for the novelty of living in self-isolation to wear off. While the idea of working from home seemed appealing at first, what with an easier commute, a longer morning coffee with Mary, dressing down rather than dressing up, it only took a week or so for the reality of isolation to sink in. Thank goodness for electronic connectivity. We learned quickly to Zoom everything. There is not only an efficiency about the medium, but there is also the intrigue of at least peering into each other’s living rooms, studies or the dining rooms to catch a glimpse of home – meetings from time to time being interrupted by a child or spouse or the cat. Electronic portals have kept us connected, sane and able to keep work-a-day life going. But there are limits, as we discover. A fatigue set in after the hustle and bustle of Holy Week and Easter and the deep recognition that this COVID-19 run is a marathon and not a sprint. And we wonder, How long, O Lord, how long?
One of my escapes while living in the state of self-isolation has been our garden. Outside our kitchen window is a lilac tree. Since the middle of March, I have watched with joy the tree come to life, small buds slowly sprouting, pushing through the end of what seems a lifeless branch. One branch taps the window when the wind is blowing – an invitation, of sorts, to notice that life is returning in the garden. The brown wilted leaves left behind by autumn are letting go to green shoots poking up through the surface of the earth. The rains of April soaked the soil in preparation for May flowers. The garden reminds us that our nature is not to stay inside, cooped up and self-isolated forever.
And what is true of our own nature is true of the Church, too. For 50 days after the resurrection appearances, the early Church remained, as instructed, in isolation. Wait for the promise that the Father is sending to you. You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said to them. They waited, prayed, watched and prepared for the day when they could break into the world like the bud on what seems a lifeless branch. We hear about the day in the book of Acts, chapter 2. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Out into the streets they went, breaking into the world to tell out their souls the greatness of the Lord. No fear, no hesitation, no second thoughts – out they went like they couldn’t wait. Like being given the all-clear after 50 days of self-isolation. Can you picture that?
Have we not been doing the same in this time of imposed isolation and quarantine? Have we not been preparing, praying, watching and learning how to be the Church separated from each other? Have we not been learning again, or perhaps for the first time, what it means to be faithful when all that we are used to doing is taken for a time: touch, closeness, intimacy, three dimensions rather than just two. This time of seclusion has, I hope, also been a time of germination. We have been experimenting with new ways of reaching out and supporting one another. We have moved beyond our comfort zones to try new things, experiment and take risks for the sake of the gospel.
One day, the all-clear will be given. One day, we will be permitted to open our doors and break back into the world. One day, we will gather around the altar, break bread, pour out wine and speak shalom to one another with deep joy. And when that day finally comes, I pray that we will not lose what we have learned, what we have gleaned from this time of separation. I pray that this time of germination will deepen our collective resolve to be the Church. I pray that through our ministry others will hear the tapping at the window or door and know new life in Jesus Christ.