“Behold I am making all things new” - Rev. 21:5
So what’s new? Probably not much as we go through week 7 of the pandemic shut down. Yet there is newness all around us. Many of us have a new routine, new ways of working or learning, new ways of getting our groceries or other items, and with Spring fully sprung there is new life all around us. The Bible uses the term “new” for God’s activities about 150 times (depending on how the Greek and Hebrew were translated). Some of the best known and most beloved Scriptures are about new. “Behold, I am doing a new thing, even now it springs up” (Isaiah 43) or St. Paul’s great words, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.” (II Cor. 5:17). God always going about doing something new for His people - but what about a “new normal”?
It is certain that this time of social distancing and a “new” (aka novel) virus has reshaped our world and caused a shift in so many things. As many states begin to slowly reopen, we see we’re not just hitting a reset button to before SARS-CoV2b came on the scene. Things are and will be different than they were in February of this year. Some of these new things may not last, many of them are permanent changes. But, as with all change, we resist embracing the new and long for the “good old days.” But as Billy Joel once sang, “The good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”
Even once we are free to leave our homes and businesses reopen, things will be different. Face masks and “social distancing” will likely be the new normal until we develop a herd immunity, have a widely available vaccine, a proven treatment or pharmaceutical option, or some combination of the above. Our essential workers will still be essential, but how many of the non-essentials will survive or survive in the same form they had before this virus hit our shores?
I saw today that a major clothing retailer is seeking bankruptcy protection and many other retailers are also having a great struggle until “retail therapy” can begin again. Some of these “brick and mortar” stores won’t be reopening. Now that getting what you need by phone or by Amazon or other online retailer has become the norm, some who have not embraced the digital age will be left behind.
I was really looking forward to Top Gun 2020 next month, but now it’s unclear if movie theaters will be reopening or showing high cost, current movies anytime soon. Will people still want to go to the movies and sit in a crowded theater jammed in with other people before we have a good handle on this pandemic? On the plus side, there may be a resurgence of the Drive-In theatre. Many movies are planning to go straight to VoD (video on demand) like Trolls 2 did. Concert venues are expected to be very light, even for “stars”, as people don’t want to take the risk of contracting the virus and bringing to others. The entertainment industry has certainly changed.
Most workers have now started working from home (those that can do so anyway). Many of these workers have found that skipping the long commute, having to buy lunch each day, and dealing with office politics and coworkers, is something they want to keep skipping. Businesses are looking at their production and if the high cost of office space in Manhattan is justified. If the workers can get the work done from home, why should we pay $xx / yr. For offices, office furniture, copier and equipment leases, etc. The work from home model might be here to stay.
How we receive health care is also undergoing a change into something new. I had two Dr. appointments on the same day last week - both were done by telecare or video conferencing. Of course each doctor used a different program and these were ones I had never used before (Google Duo and CDoc), but I was able to see them and they could see and hear me, and whatever health issue needed to be addressed was taken care of without having to enter their office. My prescriptions were electronically sent to the pharmacy who then emailed me when they were ready to be picked up, or I had the option of having them mailed so I wouldn’t have to leave the house. Some “experts” make the claim that up to 70% of what we see a doctor for can just as easily be handled over these new communication channels. Of course, surgery or blood work, or many other health matters do require a visit or an in person activity, but tele-medicine is rapidly becoming the new normal for non emergencies.
As early as March 10 schools started shutting down from preschool to the university level. Yesterday Gov. Murphy said that schools will not be reopening this academic year and learning from home will continue. While many struggle with teaching their children (especially this Common Core way of doing things), some have embraced an educational model closer to homeschooling with its fluid schedule and multiple ways of teaching a lesson. On the college level, classes are now being taught online and even graduations are being done via Zoom or other video streaming services. College students have adapted to this new way of learning and for many disciplines the cost of in-person learning (with tens of thousands of dollars per year for room and board and other fees) just doesn’t make sense. The diploma is the same whether done online for $10,000 or on campus for $50,000 / year. So is it worth going back to college in the fall? Is it worth starting college if it can be closed down 1/2 way through a semester? Granted some “applied sciences” majors like nursing, chemistry, mechanical engineering and the like need to have in person lab work done. But for many colleges and universities there is a new normal.
Our society is certainly undergoing significant shifts in what we consider “normal”, but I’ve always though that normal is highly overrated and abnormal far more exciting. But even with these shifts to a “new” normal, there are some things that never change. God’s love for us in Christ Jesus does not depend on if we’re asymptomatic or on a ventilator - He loves us all the same. Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf and in our place does not depend if we embrace new technologies or methods of doing things. His abiding presence with us through the Holy Spirit whom He put within us at our baptisms does not go away if our circumstances change. Even with all the changes this pandemic lockdown has unleashed (many of which were already happening), we can trust in the unchangeableness (immutability) of God.
Next week we’ll look at what the “new normal” might look like for the church and what new things God is doing among His people. Until then, be sure to catch our Facebook live devotions Wednesday nights at 7 PM and tune into our podcasts and Zoom services as you are able. Peace be with you all.
- Pastor Brian
Pastor Brian Handrich graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 1997. He first served a dual parish in northeast Nebraska before coming to Flemington, New Jersey in 2002.