God makes all things new — even in a pandemic

Don’t doubt God’s promised future

By Nikki Collins | Presbyterians Today

Abstract painting of a crossThe past few months have been this odd dance of ever-changing realities and downright monotony. We have completely shifted how we live. From shopping to Sunday school, nothing is the same. All the while, this new way of living has meant staring at the same walls, the same Zoom screen and the same people day after day. Waking up to wonder what crazy thing happened while I slept, while at the same time realizing that today’s schedule will essentially look like yesterday’s, has pretty much sucked the creative lifeblood right out of me.

How do you plan when you can’t predict? Where do you find the stuff to fashion a future when the contents of your current toolbox have little relevance for realities at hand? The world we are living in has stripped me of any confidence I previously had in my experience (because this is all new) or my expertise (because I’ve never done my job or raised my children or even grocery shopped in a pandemic before). I feel like I know nothing. And I’m tired.

In June, after months of sheltering in place, I drove to Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina. With no conferences scheduled and most folks still staying at home, Montreat was as quiet as I’ve ever seen it. Still, walking the paths, hiking the trails and dipping my feet in the cool stream took me to the formative years of my faith as a participant in many of the summer youth conferences. Along with the gurgle of the creek, I heard the refrain often sung at one of those conferences, a tune from the Iona Community written by John Bell: Behold! Behold! I make all things new, beginning with you and starting from today. Behold! Behold! I make all things new, my promise is true, for I am Christ the way.

Bell’s simple refrain points us to two texts in the New Testament. These texts find their way into our Presbyterian worship, showing up in the comforting words of the Assurance of Pardon — after we have made our public and private confessions — and being spoken to the grieving hearts in our funeral services that we call the Witness to the Resurrection.

In the pardon, when we have told the truth about who we are and how we’ve failed, we hear from Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone, and a new life has already begun.”

We can’t see it yet, but the promise is that something new has already been born. God lifts us from our humiliation and sets us on a new way. And then, when we stand beside the grave of someone we love, we hear God’s words promising to be with us in a new way, wiping away tears, abolishing death and pain, saying, “See, I am making all things new … write this, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:5).

When we are broken, tired and wondering how to begin again — or if we even want to — the Creator is urging us on, lifting our gaze, promising us more than we can imagine fashioned from this very moment, these very circumstances, our very lives.

Behold! Behold! I make all things new!

This refrain is a gospel “gut check” calling us back to hope, to awe and to surrender. But I admit it doesn’t completely take away the confusion, frustration and irritability I still feel in these uncertain times. And that’s OK. Richard Rohr, the Catholic priest and contemplative teacher, says that when we are faced with new realities, our most common responses are mistrust, cynicism, fear, defensiveness and dismissal. Reverting to these responses is our attempt to be in control rather than allowing this moment to teach us something new.

We need to be opened to be being taught. The new thing God is doing is what anchors us as Presbyterians whose heritage is steeped in the Reformers’ cry of “reformed and always reforming.” Embracing the new is woven into our polity as the Book of Order reminds us, “The good news of the Gospel is that the triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people.  … By the power of the Spirit, this one living God is incarnate in Jesus Christ, who came to live in the world, die for the world, and be raised again to new life” (F-1.01).

It’s funny how figuring out the way forward takes us back to ancient words — ancient words that are trustworthy and true. Ancient words that continue teaching us.

Nikki Collins is the coordinator for 1001 New Worshiping Communities. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

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