As the pandemic slowly enfolded VTS like a cloud, it was apparent that my class would not ever worship together again. No meals together either. There were no Holy Week celebrations, no in-person Commencement. Many classmates understandably did not return from spring break once classes went online, and most of the rest of us slowly and silently trickled away without fanfare. There were a few who got a good physically-distanced send-off. Others chose to quietly pack their belongings and head home. That might have been the worst part–finding out someone you lived, ate, worked, and worshipped with, someone you loved for three years, left without saying goodbye. But at that time there wasn’t really a mechanism to say goodbye, and each of us did what we could do to stay sane or something close to it.
Goodbyes are hard, especially shrouded in sadness and disappointment—the upside down nature of what should have been something more triumphant. The entire spring was marked by a profound sense of loss, confusion, frustration, and grief. No one was happy. Everyone was anxious. Fights broke out on our community FB page. Everyone was disoriented. Our community slowly disintegrated over three months.
But in our life of faith there is a time for that–there is a time for profound loss, fear, grief. The idea that something beautiful has not only been lost, but taken away, is not a new theological concept for Christians. But living it is different. While we all experience loss in our lives, for a student body that is almost completely white and American, the concept of something being taken away from a community is pretty foreign. Not so for seminarians of color, or international students. But for the white Americans like myself, perhaps in losing our last months together, in having our collective future taken away, near-term as it was, we could learn in a very, very minute way what it feels like to be powerless, to lose a bit of our promised future, if only temporarily.
And so during Holy Week it felt for the first time like I didn’t have to pretend or playact–there was death, and it was happening daily–tens of thousands of lives all over the globe were being lost to a disease that is both everywhere and nowhere. Our community was dying, Confusion, fear, chaos, depression, anxiety reigned. We did not know what was going to happen from one day to the next. The tomb was very, very empty. This is not a space white America, or even the community of white American students at VTS, has ever had to linger very long.
And then, what happened 2,000 years ago, what happens every Spring, and what happens every Sunday—what always happens, began happening. We were sent out, away from the tomb. Like Jesus, we ourselves were taken away, and spread out into the world. A world that bears even stronger the mark of our last three months at VTS–fear, confusion, anger, loss, a sense of security–and many many lives–taken away.
We, my classmates and I, are out in the world, unsheltered, exposed to the fraughtness and fragility of being human in a world on fire, to the wicked ways of Satan who peddles doubt and fear. These times are uncertain. Things will get worse. But hope never dies, and God is faithful to us always. “It is a sin to strive for security and safety,” one of my professors said once, because we know our story does not end in death or fear. It does not end at all. It continues, tumbling forward always toward redemption and resurrection. Jesus saw to that already.
And so we are here, out in the world, beginning our ministry at home in the middle of a pandemic. And now amid remarkable civil unrest and righteous calls for justice–a nation at war with its sin. We were taken away, sent out into a world reckoning with racism and reeling from disease. And yet, everything in our spiritual DNA has equipped us for such a moment. Because we know about death and fear and we know about empty tombs and Holy Saturdays and you better believe we know about what happens every spring, every Sunday, every morning, every inhale that ushers new breath into our lungs. There is no playbook but the Gospel. There is no time but now.
— The Rev. Deacon Pete Nunnally, Associate at Saint Mary’s Arlington, VA, July 2020
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog