This is why I kneel before the Father. Every ethnic group in heaven or on earth is recognized by him. I ask that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit. I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. I ask that you know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:14-20 (CEB)
As we celebrate graduations this time of year, it’s fun to look back on the life of each graduate and see the ways they’ve changed and matured. People go through things; people grow through things en route to walking into whatever their next phase will be. The goodness and unchanging nature of God is a source of comfort in all times, particularly when we take a look over our shoulder at the terrain we’ve traversed with God’s help and care.
We all go through phases in life. Some are transformative in good ways, like taking on hobbies that lead to better health and relationships, starting new jobs, starting over… some are embarassing, particularly in adolescence, and better not talked about even when there are embarrassing pictures in need of explanations. Change is our reality, however. Nothing stays the same long.
I’ve been hearing the word “phase” a lot in terms of what life with COVID-19 looks like for the months and years to come. As the graduates whose ceremonies were canceled or transformed into parades and such can tell you, the present is memorably strange. Living in history-making times, between the ongoing pandemic, continuing movements to address systemic racism, and teetering on the brink of economic calamity, is maybe not all it’s cracked up to be. Yet this is the phase in which we find ourselves.
Our current phase in New Jersey is one to cautiously celebrate. If you spend a little time looking at the case counts around the country, we see just how effective our distancing rules, masking, etc have been. Few places (maybe even nowhere) in the country have seen as steep, rapid, or sustained a decline as we have, which means we are able to progress into the next phase here.
However, there is much to be concerned about taking place in parts of the country that moved toward our current phase sooner. ICUs in Houston are at 90% capacity today with cases still rising. The same is happening in Arizona, and other states in the Southeast who have in some places stopped sharing data because, we presume, the picture is too grim.
The thing about phases is that we don’t always progress toward our goals in a straight line. Sometimes, there are setbacks. We should prepare ourselves psychologically and spiritually that the way we “normally” practice our faith is going to be on hold until this pandemic is truly over, and that that is going to take some time. We may move forward a phase only to have to, for a time, step back, to be a part of ending this terrible pandemic bringing suffering to all the earth.
I am eager to shift to worshipping in person in a modified way next month. I ask as we do so that we continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in the most impacted places. We must pray for and hold to account our leaders whose jobs are nearly impossible and who yet have the power to do good or do harm. We must pray for one another, holding onto hope, and meeting our setbacks, frustrations, and disappointments with love and kindness.
As we live in this awareness, we must celebrate all joys, particularly the achievements of those graduating this week. Their lives, plans, and experiences were upset and upended and they nevertheless met the moment with determination and grit. I am proud of all of you (particularly the graduate in my home) because I’ve seen and listened. May we all do the same.
Grace and Peace,