Texts for the day [Using the Wisdom Text] and “How To Survive and Apocalypse” from Breaking and Blessing by Sean Parker Dennison.
Each of these texts opens up the possibilities of an apocalypse – that is an inbreaking of something new. In the Wisdom of Solomon we hear about the possibilities that God’s original intentions for humans to be eternal and endless can exist in contrast with our human expectancy of death and dying.
In the Gospel we hear about the safety and wholeness that comes from listening to the needs of our human bodies and honoring their needs and requests.
Finally, in the poem, we hear the hope of a world that cares for humans both as means of community care, but as a means of survival in the midst of an apocalypse.
When I studied the Gospels in seminary, I learned that an apocalypse is both something bigger and smaller than I imagined. An Apocalypse, or an inbreaking of the end into the now, happens in the blink of an eye. In each instance, God, who took what was formless and void and made all that we see, breaks in to our human lives and realities and changes them. With her power of persuasion, God uses humans, animals, the bread and wine at this table, and breaks in to our world and prepares us for the feast shared at the end with the entire communion of saints.
In my life time, there have been so many apocalypses – the destruction of September 11th, of Hurricane Katrina and the conflict in the middle east. There has been the apocalypse of racism, where certain people are shown that society values them and cares less for them because of the color of their skin.
Yet, with our eyes on wholesome queer content, I want to point to two apocalypses that have directly changed my life.
The first started before I was born and still happens today. Nearly 35 million people died, both because of the choice of the United States government to ignore signs of a coming pandemic and the societal choice to condemn and stigmatize the ill rather than research, treat, and prevent what we now call HIV/Aids.
HIV/Aids is something that queer communities talk about regularly even today – even as queer people are composed of those with both the highest and lowest rates of HIV transmission. Throughout the historical pandemic, which peaked in 2004, gay and bisexual men who died, the lesbian women who cared for them and the other people outcast from their families of origin and other communities because of their sexual orientations and gender identities found communities of care with each other.
In an oft repeated story, healing came for a Christian community in San Francisco ravaged by HIV at the funeral of a member. His partner brought their Fiestaware to the congregation, and together they threw, stomped on, shattered and broke every plate in the set as a testament to holy rage and sacred worth, even when those dying were ignored by the institutions and agencies charged to care for human health and wellbeing.
Today, even as this pandemic continues, the power of community in caring for those affected remains. In the US, die-ins with ACT UP (the Aids Coalition To Unleash Power) and other organizing agencies amped up the urgency with which the FDA, CDC and other government agencies needed to yet did not act to prevent and contain the pandemic until the cisgender heterosexual mainstream felt the pandemic’s effects.
This needed anger, that honored the governmental and systemic abandonment of particularly gay men, fought for funding and cared for the systemic changes that have reduced transmission rates over half in the past ten years. This good and holy anger has opened the door for the apocalypse of HIV Aids to grow a community that cares for each other, and to push for a world where stigma and fear do not win out against science and research.
In the gospel today, I can’t help but feel like the apocalyptic story of Jairus and his daughter parallel the story of this first pandemic. In the midst of the rush to his house to heal his daughter, there is another disaster happening. A woman is hemorraging. She has been hemorraging for 12 years and needless to say, has likely tried multiple healthcare providers, not to mention the natural and holistic remedies offered in first-century Palestine. She has sought out care and has heard about the teacher who heals. In the midst of one apocalypse, another one shows up.
Yet, this is how our lives are; in the midst of the crises that are shaped by our societies, more occur that exacerbate and worsen those already happening. In the ongoing crisis of inequitable access to healthcare, racial disparities, sizeism and economic inequality, the apocalypse of COVID-19 came into our world and wiped out four million people in the space of just over a year.
Covid-19 did not wait for the end of one crisis, or even a reprieve. Each of these crises- these moments of the end breaking through into the now – happens together or with each other. They play off of each other. People of color have increased death rates for Covid, people of size and people living with HIV were and are deprioritized for life saving interventions– because of the ways that healthcare is appropriated and the ways that ethical decisions are made. Yet, in each of the gospel situations today we see that wholeness and healing are possible and not in scarce supply.
During this time when we were isolated from our support systems and community resources, we learned again how deeply interdependent we are on each other. Jairus’ daughter had a community gathered to care for and mourn her, even as Jairus travelled to get Jesus. There were whole communities to care for the sick- just as there were entire organizations dedicated to agitating governments and NGOs to fund research into HIV and to promote safer sex practices to reduce transmission.
I was living by myself when this pandemic started. A raging extrovert and someone who derives meaning from caring for other humans was living alone. I struggled with my disabled body that did not want to function in the ways that I wanted and needed it to. My ability to care for myself and function independently began to fade, yet as in the HIV pandemic, as in the community gathered around Jairus’ daughter and those gathered around Jesus who obscured the woman with a hemorrage, we as humans function best in community.
In order to survive the apocalypse. Any Apocalypse at all,
We have to give up
the counterfeit currency of self-sufficiency,
the mistaken addiction
and the idea
that the last to die
has somehow survived.
The only way I have survived this past year is by clinging to community. By managing a food shelf that fed friends and colleagues, by finding chosen family in my coworkers, classmates, friends and lovers. By learning the importance of finding a caring community, like the early followers of Jesus who cared for each other to ensure that as many people as possible had their needs met.
In Second Corinthians, we hear God’s promises to shift the status quo. That one day, at the end, there will be adequacy for all without greed or need, but instead a status quo diametrically opposed to the capitalisitic greed of current world economic systems. And in the feast set before us, we will get to taste the first fruits of a world as it could be, of an imagined end beyond the possibilities that could be.
The only way we will survive an apocalypse – any apocalypse at all – is if we do it together, in community, caring for and with each other.
Thanks Be To God.