Updated: Oct 11, 2022
Remember? It was March 12, 2020, for me. I was in Los Angeles having coffee with a friend, but a couple of things were odd. I picked up my coffee, but when I turned to the place where all the different kinds of sugar and various toppings are kept, it was empty. And no one was sitting inside. We didn’t quite know what “lockdown” meant yet, but we were about to learn. I headed home from the office with a couple of weeks’ worth of files in my car.
It was all very novel, the virus, and the vocabulary. We started using words like shelter-in-place, quarantine, and curbside pick-up. We quickly discovered who was essential. Folks who could barely work their phones learned how to zoom. We found ways to stay connected, to check in, and to care.
At that time, I worked in the office of our local Bishop. We were delighted to discover that everyone – all 110 congregations – held worship to be essential. It didn’t take anyone very long to figure out how to continue to praise God in whatever version of “together” we could manage.
Among pastors and bishops, the conversation quickly turned to the Eucharist. How can the mystery of the real presence of Christ in bread and wine be celebrated without the real presence of the people of God? It was Lent so it was convenient to table the conversation by saying “let’s just abstain for Lent and we’ll celebrate together on Easter.” But Easter became Pentecost and people began to grumble. They were hungry and we were withholding food. Soon we learned another truth: a zoom screen is not an obstacle for the Holy Spirit. Holy Communion celebrated in real-time with real people was enough. It wasn’t the best but, like everything zoom, it was better than nothing.
A few months into the pandemic, pastors were seeing that the loneliness of isolation was morphing into feelings of alienation and suspicion. All the disappointment, anger, grief, and fear the pandemic caused was finding a target – each other. Humans are social beings. God is a social being. We are designed to be with; to feel with. But all of that was gone.
The ten men in Luke 17 don’t have COVID, they have a different highly contagious, disfiguring, and deadly disease: Leprosy. Lockdown and shelter-in-place were not options for them. They were cast out. Cast away from family, home, work, and life. They survived on the margins between villages. They begged on the trade routes. When Jesus passed by they called out to him for mercy, and in an act of pure compassion, he sent them to the priests so they could be declared clean and return to their lives.
Jesus healed them on the way. As they walked their dead fingers and toes came back to life. Nine of them continued to the priests. I suspect that they were pronounced clean and went to find out what had happened to their families. Were they still alive, or had they starved without their breadwinner? Had the village helped them or taken advantage of them?
One of the lepers reacted differently. When he felt his body being restored, he knew it was God’s doing and turned back to thank Jesus. He probably had the same questions about his family as the others, the same need to get back to them, but he paused his agenda.
Ten Lepers were cleansed. Ten Lepers were healed. One, Jesus said, was “made well.” The same verb used here is often translated as “saved.” Salvation has never been limited to what happens when we die. It’s a gift that impacts how we live now. It has a sense of wholeness to it. To be “made well” is to be put in right relationship with God, and to know your place in creation.
Remember the slow re-opening process after the vaccines were available and in wide use? Remember the first time you hugged your family and friends? We were masked, but hugging! Remember the first time you worshipped God together in person? The first time you could hear your voice as one among many praying and singing together? The first time our psalm cantor heard the congregation join her in the response, she cried. We joined her.
Remember the first time you shared Holy Communion as a community? I do. We stood in line and received, first the hand sanitizer of life, and then kneeling, almost elbow to elbow – the body and blood of Jesus. My heart raced a bit, and I breathed a bit more deeply than normal. There was something holy happening and my whole self could sense it. Could you? I bet you did, and I hope you noticed because that is what gratitude feels like.
Gratitude is how we respond when we see God’s actions in our lives. If you want to strengthen your connection with God, to feel God’s presence in your life, then pay attention to your body. It tells you when something amazing is happening and helps you express your response as thanks and praise to God. Notice. Pause your agenda and lift your voice. Thank God for the life that you find as you go through your day and let God make you whole.