April 19

The Right Time

By Marsh Chapel

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1 Peter 1:3-9

John 20:19-31

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          It’s strange to preach this sermon to an empty chapel with the doors locked. As we continue practicing safe social distancing, Marsh Chapel has moved to recording a new sermon and greeting each week with pre-recorded material from services in years past, when we were able to physically gather together in community. We pray that we will all safely return to greeting one another from closer than a 6-foot distance and come together in the Nave of Marsh Chapel in the future, but not before public health officials tell us it is possible to do so. In the meantime, we are glad for our virtual community and hope that you and yours are well and pray for those experiencing illness or loss at this time.

          When the concern for public health arose in mid-March we learned that staying at home if we were non-essential workers would be one of the best ways to “flatten the curve.” Those of us able to do so without losing employment find ourselves in a privileged position. Students were sent home to learn from afar via online platforms and parents’ work schedules were quickly upended by balancing family responsibilities with working from home. The first few weeks we spent trying to adjust to sharing space with our loved ones 24/7, trying to establish new routines, and adapting to remote socializing and business. Initially we may have thought that this would only last a few weeks, we would get back to normal sooner rather than later and these series of events would just be a bump in the road that we would look back on later in the year and say “oh, yeah, those couple of weeks were strange, but I’m glad that’s over now.” As one week of staying at home turned into two weeks, turned into three, and now a month, it appears that this reality will be our foreseeable future until enough testing and public health measures can be taken to ensure that we can slowly start emerging from our houses. 

          The past month of staying home has had an interesting effect on time. Every day has started to meld into the next as we lack changes in our locations and interactions with others. “Catching up” with friends via Zoom or Facetime quickly devolves into conversations about the most recent news, a depressing topic, or what shows you’ve binged in the past week. Keeping track of what happened on which day, what day today is, how many days we’ve been at home has become a challenge as we start to feel a little like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, reliving the same patterns over and over again. Our experience of chronological time has been affected, leaving us feeling like time itself might not exist in the haze of this pandemic.

          On top of our loss of chronological time, however, we are continually reminded that our experience is extraordinary, or as you may have heard so frequently in the past few weeks “unprecedented.” Despite the monotony many of us are experiencing in our daily lives, the effects on the economy, our healthcare systems, and communities of color, who face the highest infection and death rates, have led to national and global upheaval. “These are unprecedented times.” Unprecedented is the fancier shorter way of “never before.” And it’s true. These times are like nothing any of us have experienced before. We find ourselves trying to mentally cope with circumstances that seem to only worsen as the days go by with no known end in sight. How do we respond to this crisis? Are we scared? Are we steadfast? Are we questioning? Do we reject it in disbelief or cynicism?  Even when our immediate situation might come to a close, we do not know what the future holds and anticipate that we will not be able to return to business as usual. 

          In today’s gospel the disciples also experience an unprecedented circumstance. Chronologically, not much time has passed between Jesus’ death on Friday and the evening of the first day of the week. They are in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic situation. Fearful, they gather together in hiding after the death of Jesus. Having heard from Mary Magdalene that she saw Jesus at the tomb after his death, they still do not believe that his resurrection could have been possible. As Biblical scholar Joy J. Moore states: “The disciples are fearful. Good news does not erase fear. Good news, incredible news, can ignite hope, but even hope does not eliminate genuine fear. So, there they were in a familiar place desperate with unfamiliar fear.” Locked inside, they encounter Jesus for themselves, first surprised and scared and then amazed at what they had seen. 

          It makes sense that Thomas, who was not with them, reacts the same way the disciples did at hearing Mary’s account of Jesus appearance.  He doesn’t believe because who could? People coming back from the dead isn’t a normal occurrence. After witnessing the brutal way Jesus was treated by the authorities, how could he possibly come back from the dead and speak to the disciples? The realities of the situation overshadow the possibilities for belief in such an unprecedented act.

          Imagine the week between Jesus’ appearance to the disciples and Thomas’ experience – the disciples, transformed and full of hope after their encounter unsuccessfully try to convince Thomas of this new reality, who, for logical reasons cannot accept his friends’ accounts. Thomas wants not only to see, but to touch to fully understand this new reality. He wants concrete assurance in the claims that his friends are making. In a time of crisis, he seeks out tangible confirmation that the reality they claim is true. 

          What happens to Thomas in encountering Jesus is much more than just a recognition of the person he knew in resurrected form as the rest of the disciples have reported. We hear from Thomas’ lips the ultimate recognition of who Jesus truly is: “My Lord and my God.” This moment of recognition is more than just out of amazement, it is a deep seeded understanding of the true nature of Jesus as indwelling with God as Christ. A Kairos moment is revealed through this utterance. Kairos, a Greek word for time, refers to “the right time” whereas chronos refers to “formal time,” or the time we know which flows in a linear fashion. There is a difference between these two words, especially in how they are used the New Testament. Kairos is specifically used to signify times which are appointed by God for a specific purpose. Thomas’ recognition of the true nature of Jesus exposes a fundamental shift in God’s relationship with the world through Christ. It will ignite the possibility of hope in the face of fear and belief in times of uncertainty. The presence of a resurrected Jesus reminds Thomas, the disciples and us of the divine power that undergirds our existence and spurs us to action in the world.

          We too, are in a Kairos moment. Famed protestant theologian, Paul Tillich frames Kairos in this way: “Kairos in its unique and universal sense is, for Christian faith, the appearing of Jesus as the Christ. Kairos in its general and special sense for the philosopher of history is every turning-point in history in which the eternal judges and transforms the temporal.” Tillich then goes on to explain the specific use of Kairos in moments of crisis which open up a connection between what he calls the “unconditional”, an experiential quality of that which is most ultimate, which many may refer to as God, and the conditional, the regular everyday interactions we have. In Tillich we hear an echo of Thomas’ Kairos moment – he asserts the need to see and touch to believe, but in the moment of seeing and touching, experiences a transcendence which enables him to identify the divine nature of Jesus. Tillich argues that we should be open to the Kairos moments which can help us adequately address the challenges of crisis moments in our society in prophetic ways to make change. Kairos moments help us to see the possibility of God’s kindom on Earth.

          Last week, Dean Hill called us to see with “resurrection eyes.” That is, to see the world in the midst of struggle in a new way filled with possibility and hope rather than darkness and death. In experiencing their own Kairos moment, in seeing Jesus resurrected, the disciples too, are seeing with resurrection eyes. While they still may have some fear and uncertainty present within them, they also carry the hope of the good news of resurrection with them. They hold in tension the physical realities of this world, and the world beyond death that Jesus reveals to them through God. We must also be willing to let this moment in time, this moment of Kairos when we experience so much turmoil, to call us to action. 

          Perhaps one of the best rhetorical examples of Kairos was given in April 1967 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in discussing the pressing need to address the Vietnam war. King stated:

          “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”


          The fierce urgency of now awakens the prophetic voice within us that seeks out justice and righteousness in the world. In many ways, the response to our current crisis is “too late.” We have lost tens of thousands of people to COVID-19 in the United States – more than any other country in the world at this point. Our failure to respond quickly and preemptively to this crisis has created major upheavals in our lives and in our social and economic structures, exposing the cracks present in our systems leading to almost a complete and total collapse. When it becomes necessary for essential workers to risk their health in order to earn a pay check because without it they would not survive, we need to re-evaluate what our priorities are. When those laid off cannot access their state unemployment offices to begin earning benefits because of stressed resources, we need to reevaluate what our priorities are. When those who are marginalized by our society cannot get access to healthcare until it is an absolute emergency, we need to reevaluate what our priorities are. When healthcare workers cannot effectively do their jobs without fear of being infected because they lack proper protective gear which governors have to battle over to gain access to, we need to reevaluate what our priorities are. The pandemic has shown us what can go wrong when we do not adequately prepare for the safety and security of others, when our leadership fails us, when we question the advice of experts in order to soothe our desire for our lives to be uninterrupted.

          While the coronavirus has led us to an immediate public health crisis which we must to respond to or face large-scale sickness and death, climate change is also a looming crisis which, over time, will create global instability on economic, ecological, and social levels. Almost exactly 50 years ago, 20 million Americans gathered all across our country raise the public consciousness about growing environmental crises and the need to address them in order to secure a more sustainable future. Their prophetic voices joined together in response to the affects of widespread pollution on Earth’s systems. Rivers on fire, mass extinctions caused by pesticides, clouds of smog from leaded gasoline, and risks to human health in places like Love Canal, NY demanded a change in how Americans treated the Earth. The first Earth Day was held nationally on April 22, 1970, spurred by the words and actions of Senator Gaylord Nelson, an environmentalist from Wisconsin, who stated “Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.” Earth Day would spur the federal government to establish the Environmental Protection Agency which was tasked with governmental oversight of laws like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

          Over time, our understanding of the injustices of environmental degradation has grown. Earth Day is now a global recognition of the ways we are all connected and the need to preserve our fragile ecosystems to promote the health of the Earth, and by default, the health of the human race. The challenge with environmental degradation is that it is not always immediately apparent. While fiercely urgent on a historical timeline of human existence, the problems of the future seem too far off to address in the present moment. In 1970, people called for drastic changes to the ways we consumed with the thought of protecting the Earth for future generations. 

          The resulting regulations implemented created conditions that pushed off negative consequences and many skeptics thought that the initial concern was an overreaction. But that that’s the thing with prevention: if it works, the negative outcomes that are forecasted will not arise because we acted expediently to address them. The old adage is true “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Climate change still looms as a force that could continue to upend our “normal” lives. Flooding, droughts, rising sea levels, and increases in the spread of new viruses, including those which cause pandemics, will all result from climate change in the coming years. In fact, scientists have been predicting for years that pandemics would be a consequence of climate change. We cannot say we were not warned about these devastating events when they happen.

          The pandemic crisis we face now is a wake-up call. It is a Kairos moment when we can accept the presence of God’s kindom on Earth in following our call to be good neighbors, stewards, and seekers of justice. We can pretend that climate change and new illnesses will not affect us, but the reality is that they all will. We live in a closed system. We are all connected. Ignoring the advisement of scientists and scholars will not make our future problems go away. Refusing to see or hear what happens to others as a means of self-preservation ultimately creates chaos for all. We have the opportunity to seek out new ways to support one another by creating lasting, systemic change that ensures we all have access to healthcare, everyone can earn a living wage, and we can care for the Earth which ultimately cares for us. We cannot go back to “normal” when this is over. We must be changed by this Kairos moment. What we do now makes a difference in what the future will hold. Faith is the foundation of this. Our belief in that which is not yet seen is what can be. The right time is now.


Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students

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