The words, “You can’t reinvent the past,” were spoken in my hearing recently. It was in reference to a monastic community that was expelled from a country and tried to re-form itself in another country. It learned that it couldn’t just re-invent what they were; they had to become something different. They had to transform.
We are living in unprecedented times. None of us has lived through a pandemic that impacted the United States the way it has this time around. Five pandemics have happened in our world in the last 20 years and frankly, our country dodged a bullet each time and the spread slowed. The other unprecedented event is that racism is finally being seen for the original sin it is in our country. It seems like there may be a tipping point into a new land of “we are so done with this false assumption that everyone is treated equally before the law.”
When change happens that is beyond our control and our imagination, there is often a tendency to pull in, pull back, and go back. There certainly are people who would prefer a less contentious time, but I would remind them that just because it wasn’t contentious for them doesn’t mean it was without terror for others.
“You can’t re-invent the past.” It reminds me of the story of Lot and his wife leaving behind Sodom and Gomorrah. When we look backwards, we can rigidify. Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. It reminds me of the Jesus saying about not looking back: “No one who puts a hand to plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) In other words, try making a straight line without looking ahead.
I woke up one morning last week with this in my head. “What does it mean to start a church in a pandemic?” Why would anybody with sense start anything during a time of such uncertainty? But the gospel is good news, and if ever there was a time to share good news, it is in times such as these.
As we consider re-opening, at least for worship, I ask you to imagine with me what does a church look like that is starting in a pandemic. Even writing those words “re-opening” feels like going back. I know there is great comfort in the familiar, but we are being called not to re-invent the past, but to imagine a future in which the good news of Christ is real in the world we know right now. Instead of re-opening, perhaps we can frame it as an opening: Opening to the pain of racism all around us, opening to the need to protect and heal during this pandemic, opening to Spirit’s wisdom and call.