A sermon broadcast during worship gathered through virtual means at the Church of the Epiphany, Lent 2020.
Last week, one of our young people asked me why God would not simply reach in and end this new coronavirus. I gave him the answer, roughly, the answer that I learned during Science and Theology class: that God has created a marvelously complex yet comprehensive and comprehensible world, and us as part of it. That God rested on the seventh day – refrained from continuing to tweak and refine and tinker. That if God reached in to catch us every time we fall, then we could not rely on gravity to keep our feet on the ground at all.
It’s an answer that I believe makes sense, but it is not the whole answer. It tends to leave out a crucial part of the story: that God loves us so much as to send Jesus to us. That God’s heart aches for our pain and sorrow. That God is with us, even in the fall.
When Jesus and his disciples come across a blind man begging, the disciples ask a question that the sages have answered in various ways throughout the ages: why is there suffering in the world? Why do even the unarguably innocent – babies and children – suffer? Why do we live with these questions from birth and throughout our lives, even in the midst of joy, even in the midst of love, even with Jesus walking right next to us?
Jesus does not give his disciples the whole answer. He doesn’t explain the suffering of Job nor address the philosophical problem of crime and punishment. Perhaps we don’t think that he is saying anything particularly useful to our situation, except to say that it was not the man’s fault, nor his parents’ fault, that affliction found him. But, Jesus says, “because of this, you will see God’s power at work in the world.”
This is not to say that it is necessarily a good thing that the man was born blind, although I defer to his experience to define how this circumstance has affected his life and identity; but it is to say that God’s goodness is present everywhere, and that every encounter, even every obstacle, is an opportunity for God’s grace and glory to shine. God’s glory is always to have mercy, and Jesus heals the man of his congenital blindness, and demonstrates God’s goodness in the moment. Because Jesus has that power.
There was more that I left out of my answer to our young member last Sunday. I forgot to add that God has given us the tools that we need to intervene and interfere with the suffering that this coronavirus spreads. There are the obvious ways – the heroism of the healthcare workers and the impressive wisdom of the vaccine developers and the planning of the policy makers, all striving to put an end to the pandemic. But there are other ways that the grace and glory of God are revealed. A visitor who had only met this community a handful of times took the opportunity to reach out and offer help with grocery shopping for anyone who needs it. Other members have spent the week calling around, keeping connected, offering prayers and an open ear. Still others have considered how we might still meet the needs of our community, its children and its older people, our Community Meal guests and our 12-step neighbours. There is much to consider, but the answer to all of it lies in the love of God, the love of neighbour, the grace and mercy that continues to be revealed when all else is laid bare and only love is still working.
Yesterday, Brad Purdom, Canon for Congregations in our Diocese, provided the daily Lenten meditation. He wrote it before we had wind of these troubles, and yet his words remind us that it is always the right time to rely on God’s mercy. He wrote,
Here [in Isaiah 42:14-16] God seems almost unable to keep from responding wrongly or too soon. God gasps and pants in restraint, like a woman in labor before she begins to push. But when that moment comes, when the time is right for everything to become new, just as that mother’s release brings life into the world, God’s release brings light to the darkness, levelness to that which is broken and rough.
We are past the midway of Lent. The moment is not yet right for new birth, but hold on. It is coming.
From all that we have seen and heard, we are not yet past the midway of this latest crisis. The moment is not yet right for the new normal. But hold on. It is coming. God’s restraint, like all else of God, is born of mercy; and even in this time of restraint, love is active, love is undefeated. God’s mercy endures forever.