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What I’ve learned amid the COVID-19 crisis—We can choose to go back to the way things were, or we can live anew

Rev. G. Travis Norvell

May 14, 2020

This Easter was unlike any in my lifetime, as I and many of my colleagues uploaded our sermons to the internet and proclaimed, “He is risen.” On the one hand, I can’t wait for this pandemic experience to pass and life to go back to “normal.” On the other hand, there are some things I do not want to go back to “normal.”

Pause for a moment and look at our transformed experience: the air is cleaner than it has been in decades because auto and air traffic are so low; in many cities public transit is free; there are so many people walking, running and biking, many cities have closed roads to cars; there is something resembling bipartisan support in Washington (kind of); strangers, desperate for communication, are, voluntarily, saying hello to one another; people are cheering for healthcare workers, teachers, first responders and social workers rather than sports figures; grocery stores are featuring 10-pound bags of flour because people are baking so much at home; victory gardens are in vogue again. Although we are isolated physically, we are more connected to one another than ever before, and we are valuing relationships over profits.

I, for one, do not want to go back to the normal, when the exact opposite of these things was true. I do want people healed, employed, and joyful. Can we find a way to take the best of this COVID-19 experience with us to the future?  

As this Holy Week passed I read and reread Jesus’ teachings during the original Holy Week, from the time he entered Jerusalem till his crucifixion. His teachings centered on two themes: community and the end of the world. As I read I found the way forward.  

Scholars describe Jesus’ end-of-the-world teaching as apocalyptic. The Greek word for apocalypse means to uncover, to reveal. Jesus’ teaching uncovered and revealed the brutality and cruelty of the Roman Empire. His teaching did call for the end of the world — the end of the Roman world, where neighbor was turned against neighbor, where compassion was rare and not the norm (read about the Prodigal Son), where power rather than kindness was sought. His teachings offered an alternative: the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community.  

Our situation during this pandemic is also uncovering and revealing many cruelties in our society: racial and economic disparities, lack of access to health care, dehumanizing immigration policies, the consequences of not trusting science, the effects of party loyalty over the common good, and on and on. I, for one, would like to see this world end.  

When it is safe to have dinner with friends again, go back to work, and congregate in houses of worship and schools and City Hall, we have a choice: to go back to the way things were, or to live anew. 

When it is safe to have dinner with friends again, go back to work, and congregate in houses of worship and schools and City Hall, we have a choice: to go back to the way things were, or to live anew. What if, when the all-clear bell sounds, the buses and trains are still free; nightly we applaud healthcare workers, first responders, teachers and social workers; we say hi to strangers and regularly check in on our neighbors; we link racial, economic, gender and ecological justice together and work toward the common good; the air was clean all the time; we rode bikes and walked more places?

I can hear the scoffers. Believe me, if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “Preacher, those words are fine for Sunday but on Monday morning in the real world…” I could buy a nice cargo e-bike. But we have lived in the real world long enough, and look where it has gotten us: alone, depressed and unhealthy. I, for one, would like to live in a new world. Because in this new world, resurrection isn’t something that happened once 2,000 years ago; it happens every day.  

The Rev. G. Travis Norvell is pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minn. A version of this originally appeared in the Star Tribune on April 12, 2020. Used by permission.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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