We have, on our refrigerator, a planning calendar. My wife is pretty meticulous when it comes to marking down events we need to remember, date and time included. The calendar includes the baccalaureate for high school graduates which had been scheduled for this past Sunday, and graduation itself for this coming Sunday. We also had marked down a graduation party we had planned for Saturday, since this was our year – our daughter Rebecca is one of the graduates!
Several weeks ago we noticed something. Under the baccalaureate, on the calendar, in Rebecca’s handwriting was, “not happening.” The same under the party. “Not happening.”
Rebecca had not said much, but it was clear there is some grieving going on here. One of those milestones of life, one of those moments you work for – and look forward to – wasn’t going to happen, and we could feel her pain. Her pain, and our pain.
But that’s not all…Pastor Jean has spent the past year planning her sabbatical, which was to begin yesterday. Not happening. At least not this year.
And a family vacation…to Florida, later this summer. Not happening.
But we aren’t the only ones experiencing “not happening.”
In the past five days I’ve had three conversations with couples planning weddings. Yes, the weddings will happen, but all the planning, the life-long dreams of how they will celebrate their marriage…not happening!
And we’ve had a funeral (Andrea Page), and we are discussing funeral plans (Harriet Slack). Maybe not all, but many of the ways we come together to give thanks for a life and grieve its loss? Not happening!
And back to graduates…college grads, finishing off four (or more) years of hard work, with dreams of careers, and student loans to pay…and then, in the midst of all this, off to find a job? For many of them, I’m guessing it’s “not happening.”
And for those who have (or better yet, had) a job, a job now lost, or severely limited, the loss of regular income suddenly restricting their future. All the hopes and plans now dashed. All that was expected, now “not happening.”
We traveled to Germany last year, on a trip that was in the works for years. How many folk planned that trip this year? Not happening!
Or getting really serious, what about all those (and there have been many across the country and even the world) who have lost a loved one, especially to Covid, who yearned in the midst of the pain of separation and loss, to spend some last time together. Not happening!
Or children looking forward to seeing grandma…athletes hoping to compete…nursing home residents expecting visits…
Or just simple church folk like us yearning to see the worshiping community, the people we love.
This is the year of “not happening!”
Now, it’s your turn. Ponder your “not happenings.” I’m guessing you have some. Events, travels, gatherings – moments planned, anticipated, eagerly awaited, that are now “not happening.”
There is your grief, and your pain. We’ve got them. All of us.
But in the midst of all the “not happenings,” there is something happening. Jesus. Jesus is happening.
In a sense, our world is under siege. The power of Covid is strong, unrelenting, and unbeatable. I’m fairly confident that God’s gift of science, scientists, and brain power will enable Covid to be beaten. Not sure when, but I believe it will happen. Until then, however, there will continue to be “not happenings.”
Yet, there will also continue to be Jesus. Just like there always has been Jesus.
The Jesus story is more than the story of a nice guy, a wise teacher, even a miracle worker. The story of Jesus is really the story of God at work in our world. Covid may get the headlines, but God is the real mover and shaker in our midst. And it began long ago.
Of course, we can look at creation around us and see God’s hand in all that is. God is the creator of all life (for the record, I am not a creationist – I buy evolution and a planet that is several billion years old – I just think God is behind it all!) So, in a sense God’s work began with the beginning of time.
But in a more narrow sense, I’m going back only 2000 years. To a hill outside a provincial capital, on the very edge of the civilized world. There, on Calvary, not all that far from a dusty little suburb called Bethlehem, a seemingly insignificant man was executed. To all appearances it was a forgettable moment in time.
Yet, in the end, it was THE turning point in all of history.
For in that man, a guy named Jesus, God was at work. God was “happening.” In that moment, God piled on to the shoulders of Jesus all the brokenness of humanity – our sinfulness, our failure, our vulnerability, our fear, and all else that holds us down. All laid on Jesus. On Jesus, who in the cross overcomes who and what we are, transforming us into a new creation. In Jesus we are redeemed, renewed, and restored.
And not just 2000 years ago. Jesus is not “God happened,” but “God is happening.” The power of the cross is that it is more than a story of something that happened long ago in a far distant land. It is happening again, and again, and happening right here. God is continuing to happen, continuing to overcome all that reduces us, drains us, and destroys us.
OK, that doesn’t mean that we take Covid lightly. This is not a call to test God, or challenge God to “keep us safe” while we live foolishly. Heed the warnings, wear the masks, and keep your distance. Remember? God gave us science, scientists and brains. Use them!
But it does mean that in the face of a summer…fall…or longer of “not happenings,” we are nonetheless revitalized, even when we feel weary and empty. For in the end, the gift of life is not in the “happenings” of our making, but in the “happening” of a gracious God, working in our world through Jesus. Working, right now, right in front of you, right there in your life.
So, go back to your list of “not happenings.” Go ahead and grieve that which will not happen, that which makes this a difficult, even painful time.
As you grieve your “not happenings,” a good and gracious God knows your pain, and even now is placing that pain on the shoulders of the crucified Jesus. That pain is real, and it hurts. And it’s OK to feel the loss, maybe even shed some tears (I have!)
But Jesus, bearing all the pain that is yours, has something to give you. Jesus has life. Jesus has hope. And Jesus has the future. All given to you as a gift of God’s grace.
And all of that guaranteed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s one “happening” that’s not going away.
Not even Covid can stop that!