What a long and unusual month this has been! It is hard to believe that two months ago, most of us were carrying on with life as usual, unaware that our daily routines were about to make a dramatic shift. This shift has affected our different lives in very different ways.
I have wondered if perhaps for many of us, this time of physical distancing has exaggerated what was already present in our lives. Those who were lonely have experienced an increasing awareness of their loneliness. Those who were juggling work and children are now juggling more responsibilities – figuring out work in the midst of a global pandemic, with children now at home instead of at school. Relationships that were strained have been strained further. Those who were struggling financially are now struggling even more. Challenges such as depression and anxiety are likely more intense. In addition to all of the difficulties related to the COVID-19 virus, the ongoing challenges and struggles of life have continued – accidents, illnesses, injuries, new babies, severe weather, acts of violence – these weeks may have been quiet in some ways, but they have certainly not been uneventful.
According to Wikipedia, the word “quarantine” derives from the Venitian “quarantena” (forty days), and referred to the period that ship passengers and crew members were required to be isolated when arriving in a new location in order to prevent the spread of the Black Death during the 14th-15th century pandemic. As students of Scripture, we are certainly aware of the recurrence of the theme of 40 days throughout both the Old and New Testaments. During the time of Noah, the rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights. Moses spent 40 days and 40 nights on the mountain receiving instructions from God. Elijah was sustained by one meal for 40 days and 40 nights before encountering God in the silence of a mountainside. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days.
Perhaps you have noticed that we are quickly approaching 40 days of quarantine, and it seems that this period will extend a bit longer. March 15th was the last date we were able to hold in-person services at church. 40 days later will be Friday, April 24th, the day we were scheduled to host the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina’s annual General Assembly. For us, the 40th day will not mark the end of this quarantine. At this time, we are still waiting on recommendations of officials regarding when we might safely gather again. Church Council will meet via video/phone conference next week to discuss possible next steps. We are beginning to imagine the end of this time of distancing, but we are not there yet, and we are not promised exactly when it will be.
In this time of uncertainty, I am reminded of the words of Jesus to Mary in John chapter 20. Mary Magdalene had come to the tomb grieving the violent death of her dear friend and teacher, and to her surprise, he is there, alive, walking, talking and speaking to her. I imagine she must have wanted to embrace him, to hold on tightly and never let him out of her sight again. But Jesus says: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” (John 20:17)
“Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.” (John 20:17)
Not yet. We are in a period of not yet. Though we want to be together as a church community, though we need to come together to discuss and make decisions as a church – we are in a difficult, ambiguous, strange period of not yet. We cannot hold on to one another, and we miss the hugs and handshakes and warmth of our church family. Just as surely as Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus will bring new life and hope and growth out of this time of struggle and darkness. Perhaps not yet, and perhaps that new life will not look the way we imagined or even hoped, but Jesus is alive. Jesus is at work. Jesus is at work in us.
— Pastor Jennifer Rygg, 4/20/20