One seeming constant since the COVID-19 pandemic started has been a desire to “get back to normal.”
Last year, former President Trump wanted us to get back to normal by Easter.
Governors of various states have rushed to ease lockdown restrictions so that we can get back to normal. People want to return to in-person worship and school, and so get back to normal.
At a personal level, this desire to return to normal certainly makes sense.
We want to go to the grocery store or other places without feeling like we are risking our lives being around too many people for too long in enclosed spaces.
We want to socialize with family and friends face to face at meals and sporting or entertainment events.
We want to restore the personal contact with colleagues with whom we have for too long interacted only at a distance or through Zoom.
We want to see all of a person’s face. We want to experience worship communally, not alone.
These – and many other desires for normal – are surely understandable and good. We are, after all, social creatures and even the most ardent individualists and extreme introverts among us thrive only in relationship with others.
At the same time, we ought not romanticize normal, for pre-pandemic life was not all good.
Do we want to make normal the greatest income inequities since the 1920s?
Do we want to make normal the ongoing toleration of racism?
Do we want to make normal our idolatry of the gun?
Do we want to make normal the political gamesmanship that has made political life so dysfunctional?
Do we want to make normal the commodification of our selves by social media?
Do we want to make normal the pollution that fuels climate change?
Do we want to perpetuate a system of higher education that immerses students in heavier loads of debt, denigrates the trades, and is driven more by corporate/economic fetishes of efficiency and productivity than educational values?
Do we want to perpetuate a church that fewer and fewer people want to associate with, one that makes its doctrines and programs more important than people?
Easter, however, challenges our ideas of what is normal. And that is admittedly hard to accept.
As Luke tells the story, the disciples had trouble accepting the new reality of Jesus’ resurrection.
They disbelieve the first reports (24:11). They don’t recognize Jesus at first (24:13-35). They are surprised by, even terrified of, a Jesus who appears and disappears (24:36-43).
And who can blame them? Resurrection is decidedly not normal.
Paul, speaking of the resurrection, says that a resurrection body is no more like a physical body than a seed to a fully grown tree (1 Corinthians 15:35-41). It is not what we think of as normal.
Scholars, commenting on the episodes where Jesus brings someone back from the dead, call these events resuscitations, not resurrections, in part to preserve the qualitative difference between them and Jesus’ own resurrection. In doing so, scholars affirm that resurrection is not normal.
As Christians, we need to realize that Easter teaches us not to accept the current state of things. We need to see that Easter teaches us that there is a new normal.
Easter calls us to be people who have glimpsed new possibilities for life, who exhibit new ways of thinking and living. Easter invites us to work with God in remaking the world into what it should be.
And the Easter season, which lasts 50 days and leads into Pentecost, teaches us that resurrection is not a one-time event. Easter season gives us the time to get our heads around the new normal and then move out in the power of the God’s spirit.
The question is whether we have the will or the courage to do so, because the Easter message can sound as insane to us as it did to the first disciples.
In light of Easter, Don Quixote’s assertion from Man of LaMancha, is apt: “Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”
Easter shows us life as it should be. How can we then be faithful and still want to go back to normal?
Professor of religion in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. He is the author of Wisdom Calls: The Moral Story of the Hebrew Bible and Faithful Innovation: The Rule of God and a Christian Practical Wisdom.