taking the words of Jesus seriously

Of all the beautiful aspects of the online worship service led by the Washington National Cathedral I attended on Easter Sunday, the 600-person virtual choir on Zoom moved me to tears.

“Together, apart, together,” I thought, repeatedly blinking water away and trying to come to terms with why this made me weep.

“Look, the woman in that colorful wide brim hat. The man with a long white beard. The couple squeezed together around the mic,” I exclaimed. My litany of praise tumbled out, heard only by my sleepy teen and dog Auggie.

What I saw: people in kitchens, bedrooms, backyards. Lives confined to a tiny box on my screen. Lives made separate in pandemic. Lives still harmonizing their voices in the hope and joy of resurrection. Hundreds of voices, each small and far apart, doing their best to share the love of God. Together, apart, together.

My fear and sadness were present—all of us reduced to cubes on a screen. But as they joyfully sang (a national choir scattered, yet together)I found hope. An Imperial crucifixion and tomb could not hold Jesus, nor will a pandemic hold back our love for each other that gives us hope for a better future.

There are days for weeping. Please allow time to mourn. So too there are days—maybe just minutes—for rejoicing. Find some good no matter how small. Both are important. The good is less likely to stick, given how our reptilian brains function. So cry out the brokenness, and try to savor and dwell on whatever wholeness you see. Allow your heart to breathe and expand in it. This week I am living into resurrection with the image of those singing “cubes,” souls actually, unbound.

Czech poet and human rights activist Vaclav Havel wrote from a Soviet prison, “Hope is not a prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world as immediately experienced, and is anchored beyond the horizons.” We do not know what the future holds. But we commit to love and hope. The man wrote this from a prison cell. His movement for freedom looked bleak.

I am accustomed in crisis to rushing to the scene of the crime and shouting “NO!” I want to fix things. Now I can no longer protest in this way. My hands are tied.

READ: Pandemic, Not Pomp and Circumstance

A can-do family member resentful of stay-at-home orders told me bitterly, “It is unsettling that there is a crisis and the best solution experts can come up with is to stay home and hide.”

And yet, what we can do together even while separate! In Wisconsin all attempts to corrupt an election for a state Supreme Court judgeship by mandating the election be held in a pandemic were foiled by brave citizens showing up—together, apart—in long socially-distanced lines risking life and limb for freedom.

Like seeds in the ground waiting for the sun to return, we continue to bring life. Apart, yet together.

Many have remarked that we will never be the same again. In what way will we be different, I wonder. Will we be atomized, balkanized, afraid? Or will we become more compassionate, more connected and expansive?

A Sikh leader celebrating Vaisakhi said: “Normally you only interact with your own individual communities, you know your local communities, but coming to the convention center program, you’re just reminded of how much bigger the community is and how supported and how fortunate we are to be part of that community.”

Says the poet Dr Gonzalo Sánchez-Terán:

“The man who returns from the desert/ never looks at a glass of water again/

When we finally get to hug/let’s not return to each other/

with the same look, the same verb,/same heart, same arms.

When we hug again, the morning/ full of kisses, tears, caresses,

let our arms be new arms,

wiser, more clement, more human”

This crisis in some ways demands more of us than a war, a natural disaster or political crisis. The one thing most of us can do is protect and love each other by waiting in the quiet soil, hoping that in due time we will spring forth more connected and committed. Perhaps this is a time to learn that even the smallest of acts can lead to a revolution.

Our love knows no bounds. Together, yet apart, but together we will come through—hopefully more powerful and wise, more grateful and connected than before.

About The Author


Rev. Jennifer Butler is the Founder in Residence of Faith in Public Life, a network of faith leaders united in the pursuit of justice. She chaired President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. She was named one of the “22 Faith Leaders to Watch in 2022” by Center for American Progress. She is the author of Who Stole my Bible? Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for Resisting Tyranny, which makes a biblical case for multi-faith, multiracial democracy in the face of rising white Christian Nationalism and authoritarianism in the U.S. and around the world.

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