Our lives have changed. Changed by pandemic, changed by death, changed by necessity, changed by social distancing. We will not be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic. We simply cannot be.
We will have lived through a global trauma and we will have done it communally. We will have stretched ourselves beyond our routines, our training, and our degrees. We will have reinvented ways of living, worshipping, leading, teaching, parenting, and shopping. We will innovate and create. We will engineer and pioneer. We will develop solutions and ideate new possibilities. We will push through to a new frontier.
We are in a shared time of transformation. This is a time that will reformat the way that we think and work and minister and behave. We have the opportunity to rise above and beyond what has separated and divided us, to stand in solidarity with the very fiber that connects us, our humanity.
This period of pandemic has given to us a rebirth of the human enterprise known as community. We have once again been reminded of our need for the other. Our survival depends on more than our own ability, but on the collaborative efforts of humanity as a whole. This pandemic, this disease, does not discriminate as humans do. This is a battle we share, and we must overcome together. Survival depends on it.
Workers who have gone unnoticed and under-appreciated for decades, are being seen as the heroes they are. We are not questioning the worthiness of those on the frontlines before we ravage our craft closets and fabric collections to sew medical masks to save their lives. We are not carrying out debates over who deserves to live and who does not, rather we are all seeking to ensure that as many individuals live through this pandemic as possible. Doctors and medical teams are not asking about the sins of those on respirators. No. We are standing together to fight against what threatens to take our lives.
Standing in solidarity is about recognizing what connects us and giving it a greater weight than what separates us. Solidarity isn’t about uniformity, but rather unity of spirit. We have always been called to solidarity with the neighbor and the stranger. We have always been called to put down our swords. We have always been called to seek the greater good of the other, to lay down our lives for our friends, to serve others more than we serve ourselves.
Recent lectionary texts have included powerful examples of Jesus entering into a world that was as varied in economic, racial, class, religious, cultural, and gender divides as ours is. Jesus not only enters into this world; he also steps into the individual stories of the woman at the well, the blind man, Lazarus. Some of these stories break open our hearts and we find our own story within them. Some of these stories highlight to us the very nature of Immanuel and the power of resurrection we hunger for today.
God with us. God standing with us. God grieving with us. God seeing with us. God loving with us. God serving with us. God creating with us. God healing with us. God leading us. God in solidarity with us. Always.
The same God that created you, created me. The same God that put air into Eve’s lungs, breathed into us. The same God that walks with the “thems” of this world, walks with the “us’s.” The same God that knows the sting of death, steals the sting of death.
To walk in solidarity at this time is to recognize not only our connective tissue as humanity but also our explicit need of the other for survival. Truly, we learn again what it means to hear of death, to ponder it, to consider it for those we love and those we’ll never meet. Maybe it is for us not to skirt away from the thought of death, but to learn from death itself a very mystery of living. The one certainty of this life, after all, is that we will all die. But death, where is your sting?
In the critically acclaimed and award-winning novel Tuesdays with Morrie, author Mitch Albom presents the notion like this:
“Amazing, I thought. I worked in the news business. I covered stories where people died. I interviewed grieving family members. I even attended the funerals. I never cried. Morrie, for the suffering of people half a world away, was weeping. Is this what comes at the end, I wondered? Maybe death is the great equalizer, the one big thing that can finally make strangers shed a tear for one another.”
Could it be that this very moment in time, as tragic and terrifying as it can be in its most raw form, be a wakeup call for this generation to recognize its very nature cannot be separated from the other?
Could it be, that if we pondered things like life and death and the divine creation of humanity, that we may find that the very thing we need the most is the thing we resist the most?
Could it be, that to really live, we must understand that we are truly equal in design and must then therefore take our feet off the necks of those we have oppressed? To live out a theology and apologetics that mean something?
Could it be that in recognizing we will all die, and that we will not all live, that we must pursue not only the abstract essence of life, but the very eternal nature God has so desired for us to know? And not just know it as some ethereal existence, but to be transformed by its very truth in the here and now?
Albom later tells the reader, “the truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
In my ministry and in my personal life, it has been the very thought of death, fear of death, or experience of death that has somehow ripped the doors off the hinges of this life we are given. It’s the loving and losing, the giving and taking, the breaking and healing. It’s the ebb and flow, the push and pull, of the human heart desiring to make sense of this life. And then there, in a moment, we realize this life has so often become about the very things that derail us.
Solidarity with humanity means a compassion that extends beyond earthly barriers, economics, and possessions. Solidarity with humanity means being deliberately complicit in God’s life-giving work of justice and mercy to all of God’s people.
Solidarity with humanity means weeping for those lamenting across the globe. It means putting down our signs, our politics, our hatred, our verbal and physical violence. It means stepping aside for the other. It means standing in the gap, in front of the train of injustice. It means never valuing our life, our opinions, our traditions, our comforts, over the life of our neighbor.
Whether we stand in solidarity with medical professionals, lab technicians, scientists, community and religious leaders, or we stand in solidarity with the very people we are commonly found to quarrel with, we have picked up the mantel of life when we have chosen to stand for one another.
We choose the “vulnerability that loving entails,” as Albom writes it, when we choose the intentional act of solidarity with others, for the sake of others.
There are no manuals or guidebooks to tell any of us how to handle the global pandemic we are facing. We will turn to history, to science, to ancient religious texts, and to the words of our ancestors. We will turn to prayer, to service, to hope. We are not the experts here. We are, in solidarity with those around the world, the vulnerable human race that stands to lose it all if we do not stand with all.
Morrie, a sociology professor, gave us these words to savor then and now. “Be compassionate,” he said. “And take responsibility for each other. If we only learned those lessons, this world would be so much better a place.” Albom noted that Morrie took a breath and then added his mantra: “Love each other or die.”
To love now is to practice solidarity. To live now is to live solidarity with those like us, and those unlike us. Because in the end, we are all God’s children. In the end, we were all created from the same beautiful dirt. In the end, Lent teaches us that we return to the very soil that gave us life.
Jesus calls from the cross. “Forgive them.” Jesus calls from the garden. “Mary!” Jesus calls from the place of disbelief. “Peace be with you.” Jesus calls us still. Love each other and live.