After more than a year gathering virtually in what felt like an endless Lent, we were able to celebrate Easter in-person! Masked. Socially distanced. Sanitized. In-person!
There were balloons and welcome signs and colorful flags. The music was celebratory. The mood was giddy. Resurrection felt real in a way I desperately needed.
Today I am thinking about what’s next. I am thinking about the strong pull to return to “normal.” I am thinking about how there is and will be a great number of folks wanting to “go back,” as if that were a possibility. I am thinking about the Israelites who left Egypt.
For 430 years the Israelites lived as slaves. (Exodus 12:40)
Children were born and died as slaves. Generations lived their entire existence under the yoke of slavery. Hundreds of years in captivity meant slavery was “normal.” When the people were finally led out of slavery, I can almost believe there were balloons and welcome signs and colorful flags. The music must have been celebratory. The mood was surely giddy. Resurrection certainly felt real in a way that was desperately needed.
And then the giddiness wore off and the grumbling picked up.
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”Exodus 16:2-3 (New International Version)
Imagine being liberated from over four centuries of captivity and the thing you want most is to go back because you could sit around pots of meat. That is the power of “normal.” That is the draw of what is known and understood. Even when it is slavery!
When the people started receiving regular food (manna), the grumbling didn’t stop.
The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”Numbers 11:4-6 (New International Version)
Their needs are being met by the gracious provision of God and they pine for the days when they lived in Egypt.
They were slaves!
As we begin to see an easing of restrictions, an increasing number of people being vaccinated, and a desire and willingness to again gather in groups, “Egypt” has never looked more attractive than it does now.
We liked our “meat pots” and “cucumbers.” Perhaps literally, but here I am thinking about what we had come to know; the patterns of behavior, the expectations of how we did things, the systems which developed over time and with which we were intimately familiar. Our preferences and comforts call to us.
Never mind the Church in the West has been suffering from an image problem for some time. Ignore the declining participation. Pretend like the “nones” represent an insignificant slice of the population. At least we had our “onions and leeks.”
After not meeting physically in the sanctuary for over a year, I watched as folks attempted to return to their unofficially assigned seats. I get it. We want things to feel normal again. So, finding ourselves in uncharted waters, uncertain about what “hybrid Church” is supposed to be and how we might become it, we are already starting to hear the rumblings of “when are we going to get back to the way things were?”
Why change worship times?
Why mess with how we gather?
Why all the talk about people outside the Church?
These are not new tensions in the Church, but as I said, “Egypt” has never been more attractive. The pull is proportional to our uncertainty and there has never been a more uncertain time than now.
For forty years the Israelites wandered and grumbled and yearned to return to their captivity.
In time Joshua began leading the people and he named the situation as clearly as he could…
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”Joshua 24:15 (New International Version)
I do not know the way ahead. I only know the pull toward “Egypt” will grow stronger as we go. I’m convinced whatever we do, the “Promised Land” lies before us, it is not to be found by returning to where we once were. As for me and my household, we are committed to pressing on. I’m going to leave the meat pots and cucumbers in exchange for what God is offering now. And what is that? It is our daily bread. What we need, and just what we need, to take our next stumbling steps toward the future. We can take those steps with confidence God will provide. God always has. When I want to go back to yesterday, I hope you’ll remind me God is leading us to an ever better tomorrow. If you’ll do that for me, I promise I’ll do it for you.
Life is better together,