The sun is coming up

Published 8:43 pm Tuesday, March 16, 2021

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By Charles Qualls

This last week brought an odd anniversary of sorts that none of us wanted to mark. A year ago was the week when the newly arriving global pandemic caused most of life to feel as though it had shut down. Oh, we watched as an entire cast of “essential” workers across several fields pressed on with their jobs. We are deeply indebted to those who had to go on, with no choice about sheltering in place. It was a dark, uncertain time. Exactly one year later, the sun finally seems to be coming up.

In John 3:14-21, Jesus received a cautious Nicodemus. This pharisee had sneaked over to talk with him in the darkness. They had a hushed conversation in secret because Nicodemus appears to have been actually considering what Jesus was teaching and preaching. Now in this week’s scripture, Jesus has begun to press harder with this religious official whom he thought should know better. Instead, Nicodemus remains in the spiritual dark.

Analysts and regular citizens alike talk about all they wish they’d known a year ago. Obviously, we would all like to have known just how long this pandemic would be drug out, largely because so many didn’t take it seriously enough. We could wish we had anticipated how deeply the isolation would affect some. From the young to the oldest, many have suffered the depressive effects of too much time alone. Like so much in life, the cure can come at a high price.

Today, though, I also wish we could have seen how divided we were about to become as a people. We know now that we were in the process of losing over 534,000 U.S. citizens, including more than 10,000 right here in Virginia. Often, the daily national death toll equaled the one time loss of 9/11, and we woke up many next days to the very same thing. What could make this hard time of separation and isolation, illness and death even worse? What we didn’t know is that while in our protective bunkers, so many would choose to take divisive and harmful positions. That’s what could make things worse. At the very time we needed to pull together as a culture and live in unity and nurture, safety and hope, we watched life get so annoying.

In June of 1944, Allied forces prepared for the invasion of the beaches at Normandy, France. They gathered intelligence, including photos that appeared to show the terrible danger they faced. They drew up the best plan they could, but went over knowing that the death toll would be high because the German fortifications there were obvious to see at places. What they didn’t expect became known only later. As real as the Nazi frontal assault there on the beach was, just inland was a brilliantly hidden backup fortification now known as the Maisy Battery. What made the Omaha invasion so deadly was the inland fire coming over the top from Maisy, a fortification no one seems to have known existed.

A pandemic was enough to deal with last year. Suddenly, every question and action seemed to get politicized in a way that is foreign to me. Wearing masks? Political. Staying home vs. being out and about? Political. Aid to help those who were suffering financially? Political. Believing that the Covid-19 was a real and dangerous health threat? Political. Never mind that we also had racial upheaval and a contentious election cycle that can get unruly at any time.

The effect is like that of the unexpected fire from the Maisy Battery. In the last year, we had folks lobbing figurative missiles at each other about everything. From the isolation and relative safety of an electronic world, buried deep within everyone’s protective bunkers, the social media world especially became a weaponized place of assault. A dark enough time drew darker.

Now, we have a rapidly deploying set of vaccines arriving. Many are getting first if not second doses. Though this remains a dangerous time in the pandemic, hope feels as if it is springing up on the horizon. The sun is finally coming up on a dark period we have survived. Jesus tells Nicodemus here that the biggest problem is that people have become addicted to the dark. I wonder if we have it in us to instead embrace the light? To find ways to shine light rather than to cast darkness? To love instead of to hate? To help rather than to hurt?

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.