Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd April 12, 2020
Within this wild, emotional roller coaster ride that we are all one, I paid particular attention to the emotions of those in the story of Christ’s resurrection. They, too, were on a wild, emotional roller coaster ride. As the first day of the week was dawning, The Gospel of Matthew tells us that two women both named Mary went to the tomb of Jesus. When they arrived, there was a thunderous earthquake and a flash of light revealing an angel who told them, “Do not be afraid. Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised. Go and tell the other disciples.” As they hurried back, they ran into the risen Christ, who also said to them, “Do not be afraid.” The women were still shaking in fear, but there was a seed of joy beginning to take root.
Fear and joy all mixed up together with the other overwhelming emotions of grief and shock. Their world had been irreversibly turned upside down for the worse, that is until they encountered the risen Christ. Their world would not change back to the old normal, but Christ gave them hope for what lay ahead. They would find a new normal that would be transformative.
Easter has traditionally been the time of confirmations and baptisms. We were planning for 6 youth confirmations today and I am sad that we won’t be able to celebrate this today—but it’s just being postponed, not cancelled. The Anglicans are going to celebrate Easter Sunday in a mighty way on their first Sunday back in person, and I would like us to do the same—hopefully with confirmation. You can never have too many Easter celebrations, for Christ rises again and again in our hearts. Our baptism and confirmation liturgies talk about dying to an old way of life and rising to a new way of being.
These words are particularly poignant this year, when our old way of life may never return. This past week, I’ve gradually come to realize that the world has undergone such losses that it will not be possible to return to our old, habitual ways. We are experiencing a loss of life, jobs, income, and business on a greater level of magnitude than any of us have ever before experienced. There is an unbelievable amount of suffering and grief. We are actually experiencing the five stages of grief. Some are still in denial, refusing to keep their physical distance. Others are incredibly angry, striking out at those trying to enforce rules of safety. Still others are bargaining, saying, “We just need to stick it out another few weeks and everything will return to normal.” Some are entering depression, realizing that what was will no longer be. The final stage of grief is acceptance, but I don’t know anyone who has fully reached that stage yet. The stages of stages of grief cycle around and around. They are like a dance. They’re not linear. The key to moving though these stages of grief is to allow ourselves to feel these emotions, even if they take us to some dark places. There is no short cut through grief. We have to walk through that valley of the shadow of death.
Martha Beck notes that our old, rickety, rigid and polarized institutions across the globe have increasingly oppressed billions of people and the very earth itself. They are simply unsustainable. If humanity and the earth have any chance of surviving, there needs to be a massive change. Well—it’s beginning to happen. This towering tsunami is crashing in, breaking down old structures and washing away their foundations.
Martha Beck suggests that to survive this massive change, we need to adopt what she calls a fluid intelligence—the kind that babies have. This intelligence stays in the present, is keenly observing, always adapting, forever learning.
Instead of trying to rush back to our old structures of refuge, which are irreparably crumbling, we need to ride out the tsunami wave, supporting one another each with our own flood of emotions. We can’t avoid the suffering. We need to go through it, feel it, and find each other to help bring one another along into a new way of being.
The butterfly has long symbolized the transformation of a new life in Christ. I recently learned what happens inside that cocoon. The caterpillar doesn’t just go to sleep and wake up a butterfly. Its digestive juices actually disintegrate its own body and it turns into a gooey, caterpillar soup. All of its tissues disintegrate except for what are called imaginal discs that each develop a different part of the butterfly’s body, fed by the surrounding protein-rich soup. The caterpillar must die before the butterfly is birthed.
In this time of cocooning, some things will die. Some people will die. But most of us will emerge into a new life. We won’t be able to return to the old, as much as we will want to find refuge in the familiar. I pray that we will remain open to what is, not pine for what was. I pray that we will able to live with fluid and compassionate intelligence that will be able to adapt and create a kinder world for the most vulnerable.
There are a lot of fears as we come into the dawn of a new day. There, we will find the stone, that has protected our old ways, rolled back, revealing new life that is rising from the dead. There, we will find the seed of joy planted in our hearts. In the face of grief and loss, the risen Christ gives us hope. Peter Denton noted in a Winnipeg Free Press article that the word hope in the Maasai language means “the faith that what is done right aligns with how the universe is meant to unfold, for a continual blessing from generation to generation, as part of the rhythm of life.”
As Christians, we have a clear map of how the universe is meant to unfold. God’s love is our motivating force, compassion our means, justice our plumb line and shalom (meaning peace and wellbeing) our goal. This is the kin-dom of God—the new world order—for which we have long prayed and worked towards.
I’ve preached about the kin-dom of God for decades, but this is the first time that it’s becoming real to me. This is the first time that we might actually see the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice. History supports this optimism.
Jino Distasio notes that during the Industrial Revolution, Europe dealt with wave upon wave of infectious diseases that took a tremendous toll on the population. Each time, they were forced to study and evaluate the causes and preventions of these diseases. These times of rebuilding led to reforms from which we still benefit. Building and occupancy standards and codes were developed. We learned how to separate clean water from sewage and how to treat water. We realized the brutal outcomes of overcrowding, poverty and lack of sanitation. Mind you, we still have a long way to go to implement these learnings amongst the poorest of our country , especially on reserves, and of the world, but we know what to do.
Looking back points the way forward. History gives us hope that the new world that will emerge will be kinder and more just for all; more cooperative and less polarized. It’s starting to happen already. A Chinese company named Xiaomi (shoumi) shipped crates containing tens of thousands of respirator masks to Italy. Stapled to the side of the crates was an ancient line of poetry from the Roman philosopher Seneca: “We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree, and flowers from the same garden.” We are seeing partisan politics and sworn enemies morph into compassionate relationships of cooperation.
We are gaining a new appreciation for workers in essential services, some of whom only receive minimum wage. These are our new heroes. Communities are creatively reaching out to support one another. People’s front windows are becoming billboards of hope. (show pictures) Nancy & I went on a hope hunt a few days ago, taking pictures of these signs of gratitude and wisdom. We saw white hearts in support of the frontline workers—a more meaningful kind of whiteout party. We saw teddy bears for the kids to count and tissue paper rainbows of hope. My favourite was at Catherine Mitchell’s place. There, a sign reads: “Also highly contagious: kindness, patience, love, compassion, enthusiasm, positive attitude, resilience, hope. Be the carrier.”
I was speaking with Anglican Bishop Geoff Woodcroft last week, and he said that we Christians are fully equipped to help lead in this new world order. Now’s the time to let our light shine. Now’s the time to believe that we really are an Easter people full of compassion and hope, rising to a new way of being.
 Peter Denton, “Now more than ever, hope matters,” Winnipeg Free Press March 28, 2020
 Jino Distasio, “Resiliency and hope in global cities” Winnipeg Free Press April 2, 2020 https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/analysis/resiliency-and-hope-in-global-cities-569309062.html