In March 2020, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of COVID-19. The two years since then have been full of fear and heartbreak — but there are also reasons to be hopeful.
To mark the anniversary of the shutdown, we teamed up with the University of Chicago to ask faith leaders from across the city to share short sermons reflecting on the pandemic for people of all beliefs.
Below are remarks from the Rev. Emily McGinley, author and executive pastor of Urban Village Church. Press the “Listen” button to follow along.
When Jesus shows up at the front door of an upper apartment, he is ready to reconnect with his friends, the disciples. Freshly resurrected, I picked him walking in like Daveed Diggs in Broadway’s Hamilton, full of swagger in his step and certainty in his eyes.
But then he looks into the room and realizes that this is not the crowd and it is not the time. These faces once so full of confidence, anticipation, courage and determination are ghostly. They are faces marked by grief, discolored by exhaustion, strained by anxiety and cloaked in fear.
It’s only been 72 hours since Jesus was executed, since their world was turned upside down and their assumptions turned inside out. But it may as well have been just as many years. Time lost all meaning even as it bore down on this small band of religious and political revolutionaries in a way that they had never known before. The particular brutality of religious violence, weight of an indifferent (but even more brutal) empire and the trauma of seeing a beloved friend who dies at the intersecting hands of both had gutted their will and rendered them mentally paralyzed.
And so instead of a joyful word of greeting or a pithy “What did I miss?”, the first words out of Jesus’s mouth were, “Peace be with you.”
Peace be with you — peace that surpasses all understanding — a peace that anchors in the midst of swirling, cyclical, demoralizing, wave after wave of setbacks, putdowns, deferred dreams, and opportunities for “growth,” leaning in, pivots and adaptive leadership. Peace be with you as you go to your essential job wondering if, and when, you test positive, who will take care of the little ones? At Urban Village Church, we were uncertain but experimental, making moves for mutual aid and care, driving around the city in order to have a moment of connection. Pastors felt an unexpected kinship to Mary Poppins’s one-man band Bert, serving as audio, visual and lighting technicians to offer weekly worship online — seeking to facilitate spiritual connection amidst physical distance.
Small groups, game nights and coffee hour participants all joined in choral unison of that most-recited of pandemic phrases, “You’re muted.”
The community may have stayed that way if God’s vision of wholeness of life for all didn’t push us into the streets to stand up, step with, march forward and speak out about Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade and George Floyd, and the craved connection but fear of proximity. We moved, we left jobs, we took new jobs and are still looking for or reevaluating relationships, work purpose, faith.
It’s only been 24 months, but it may as well have been as many years. Time has lost meaning in a way that we have never known. And we are traumatized by sickness, by death, by isolation, by disrupted plans or the inability to feel the goodness of being in the same space, singing the same songs, praying and eating together.
Yet the Jesus we knew before all of this unfolded comes to us again, as he always has to break bread with us and to pour himself out for us to show us the real evidence of real execution on his real and resurrected body, the receipts on how he is not just a spectator of our pain, but that he journeys with us in it — our grief and anger and confusion — to anchor us again as he did so long ago, saying, “Peace be with you.”
Peace be with you.
This piece was produced for broadcast by WBEZ’s Adora Namigadde, together with The Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion at the University of Chicago. Follow them @adorakn and @UChiDivinity.