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  • R. Bruce Johnson

“God’s New Normal”

After a difficult year, we are all looking in hope for a brighter day. For Christians, there is nothing more hopeful than the message of Easter. So, let us consider for a moment how the Easter message changes our present experience and future hope.

An often heard desire these days is for things to get “back to normal.” This expresses hope for return to a time when things were more to our liking. For me, there are two sure signs of a return of normal: when real fans and not cardboard cutouts fill baseball stadiums, and the glorious day when we can sing in church without masks. For others, it may be getting the kids back to school full time or being able to travel confidently again. The distribution of the COVID vaccine is strengthening the hope of many for a return to normal.

But some predict that the end of this present season will bring not a return to what is familiar and welcome, but rather a “new normal” that will look very different and not in a good way. Developments in the nation and the world, coupled with our personal losses signal difficult days ahead. In the new normal, how many of those fans will actually come to the stadiums? How will the children have been affected by too many hours alone before a screen? Will our members return to church to sing their faith, or will some have drifted away? The new normal may be bittersweet at best and a threatening challenge at worst.

The message of Easter presents a stark contrast both to the “back to normal” and the “new normal” spirit of our times.

For Jesus’ disciples, his crucifixion had brought a sudden end to everything good in the world. Their master to whom they had devoted three years of their lives, and in whom they had placed their hope, was dead and gone. Now there could be no return to normal, and the new normal without him was dark and fearful. Would they be Rome’s next victims?

The disciples’ despair is painfully evident in the stories of the risen Jesus’ appearances to them, but with a surprising twist. John’s gospel tells how a grieving Mary Magdalene arrived at Jesus’ tomb to find it empty. Doubly troubled at the thought that someone had stolen his body, she then recognized Jesus when he spoke her name. In an instant, her fears vanished and she ran to tell the other disciples the news (20:1-18). Later that day, Jesus appeared in a locked room where his followers were hiding, and with a word of peace turned their frightened hearts to rejoicing. But Thomas who was absent insisted he would not believe unless he could see and touch Jesus for himself. A week later Jesus appeared to him and Thomas the doubter became the first to profess the Easter faith: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:19-29).

The gospels record how other appearances by the risen Jesus to his dispirited friends

reveal the same: robbed by his death of their cherished past and lacking any hope for the

future, Jesus’ coming to them again changed everything. He was the same, but changed. And all who believed in him would be changed as well and forever. From then on, there would be no talk of going back to the past and no fear of the future.

Jesus’ bodily resurrection signaled that there is now a new normal on earth, and not of human making or imagining. By his rising, God’s new normal has appeared, and those who embrace this good news as their own know that it turns our mourning into dancing, our doubt into faith, and our fear into joyful witness. By their courageous witness, Jesus’ transformed disciples would announce that, in a world where the old normal is elusive and the new normal bleak, God’s new normal—the Risen Lord with us to save—is the best possible news, at all times.

So in our uncertain time, let me be the first to greet you with the good news of God’s new normal: Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!

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