In these strange times, I have found comfort in reading John the Apostle. Not his accounts of strange creatures and odd visions that sound more like the Walking Dead or something from the Matrix, but the Gospel of John. John's account of the life of Jesus is apocalyptic in another sense—in John's same poetic language, his account of Jesus' life disrupts how I see the world, and in the person of Jesus, remakes creation.
He remakes it like this:
Fifteen years ago David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech called "This is Water" that has since become famous. If you have been at City Church for a while, you may have heard it quoted before:
"There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys, how's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, 'What the hell is water?'"
The speech starts with the fish in water analogy and ends with the call for graduates to pay attention: "this is water, this is water . . ." Wallace wants us to pay attention to the unspoken assumptions we make about our lives. He speaks the truth, we need to be aware of the worlds we swim in. Wallace falls short, though. We cannot reason meaning into a situation or think ourselves into a particular reality. Our world is not what we thought it was. "Virus" is not an abstract word anymore. When our world turns upside down, we see our world is not what we thought it was.
This is the way John disrupts my perception of reality: I was originally trying to remember "This is water." But the Kingdom of God is an upside-down reality where instead I should be reminding myself: We are fish, we are fish.
John, my apocalyptic friend, helps me remember we are fish. We will turn to his account of the crucifixion, and we will get back to the water shortly. In John's account of the crucifixion, we hear Jesus say three things. In the first saying, we see John and Jesus' mother at the foot of the cross: "When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved [John] standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.' From that time on, this disciple took her into his home." (John 19:26–27). Fleming Rutledge, an Episcopal priest, describes the organic connection that happens when Jesus gives unrelated believers to each other: "He gives his mother to him and him to her, in a completely new kinship that infinitely transcends blood kinship . . . This is the hour of remaking of the kosmos and the reconciliation of human relationships." Jesus is remaking our broken world. He does this by reconciling us to himself and to each other.
As we face the terrible realities before us, we still face the ordinary swells of life like laughter, sorrow, anxiety, and joy. What better place to take our problems and our relief and our friends than the place of terror where the kosmos is remade? A virus does not change one of the last things Jesus taught his disciples while alive: he is our vine and we are together his branches (John 15:5).
In the hour of his crucifixion, Jesus is forsaken so we would never be. He will heal our brokenness and he is remaking a world—a world where together we hurt and we love together even as we live in isolation. Our existence as autonomous creatures was a myth; we are desperately dependent on a creator. It feels upside down to us, but this is water. This is what it means to be fish.
As we vulnerably fumble around trying to make sense of our new reality, seeing the world we swim in is not what we thought it was, let that vulnerability lead you through the paradox of this time where there is both lament and hope. It's okay to not know what that looks like. Let's ask for help. Take the paradox to the one who made you and sacrificed himself so you would never swim alone.