“Ladies and gentleman, this is Justin, and I’ll be your captain today. On behalf of Jesus, welcome aboard Pandemic Flight COVID-19, offering non-stop service from your sense of normalcy to an undisclosed final destination. Flight time will be three weeks…uh, I mean three months… actually it could be up to 18 months, we’re just not sure. Never mind that.
Please direct your attention to the front as we demonstrate the safety features of this Pandemic aircraft. While aboard please remember to stay in place. You must not move about the cabin. We remind you that this is a no interacting flight. Talking with, touching, or being within six feet of other passengers is strictly prohibited by law. Cabin pressure will not be normalized.
You will find this and all other safety information in the media box in front of you. At this time, please make sure your toilet paper is stocked, your Netflix and Zoom accounts are up to date, and your phones are set to airplane mode. We do offer limited in-flight entertainment and invite you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.”
Life in a pandemic is like being on an airplane. It’s an in-between season. A time when you are neither where you were nor where you are going. It’s the only time when it’s more accurate to talk about your location in the past or future tense rather than present. Flights are a time of transition, defined by movement from one reality to the next.
If you’re like most, you’ve felt upended by this entire situation. You’ve been forced into the middle seat of a flight that feels uncomfortable and never-ending. Unlike a flight though, you didn’t sign-up for this, you didn’t even see it coming, and no one knows how it will end.
The good news is that in-between times aren’t unique to us or even to pandemics. The Bible shows multiple in-between times from the exodus, to the Babylonian exile, to the Upper Room. So, how should a disciple process in between times? How did Jesus handle them?
Jesus’ In-Between Times…
Jesus experienced at least two “in-between” times in his life.
The first was His forty days in the wilderness. Jesus had just experienced a highlight-reel type moment. He’d just been baptized, and heard God proclaim His pleasure to everyone about His Son. What a thrill! Instead of a party or a parade to celebrate, the Spirit led Jesus to the wilderness for six weeks of social and physical isolation. When it’s over Jesus enters his three-plus years of public ministry. What happened in-between prepared Him for the rest of His life.
Jesus’ second in-between time was in the garden. His betrayer, Judas had just walked out of the Last Supper and Jesus had just hours before his arrest. He knew they were coming and knew His time on the cross was near. Though the time was short, the moments in this in-between time were intense and precious. He spent much of this time in prayer and asked His disciples to keep watch. As He implored the disciples to support Him a third time, the soldiers arrived to arrest Him. The time had come, but the in-between time had prepared Him to face the terrors that were to come.
Thriving During In-Between Times
In-between seasons are thrust upon us, they aren’t chosen. Jesus was driven by the Spirit to the wilderness. He was deeply grieved at Judas’ betrayal and what followed. It’s okay to wrestle with the new in-between reality. At the same time, we must balance our struggle with faith in God’s sovereignty. Though we may feel blindsided take the time to recognize that God isn’t surprised or panicked about what’s happening. Working through many conflicting emotions helps us land in a place of acceptance.
In both the garden and the wilderness Jesus turned to prayer. His prayers in the garden were a clearly a way He worked through emotions to accept what was coming. In the wilderness though, He also prayed. Though we know less about these prayers, we know that it was paired with fasting. In both cases, we see Jesus abiding deeply. The result of abiding is a strengthened dependence and identity. These are unmistakable in how Jesus handled Satan’s temptations and Peter’s attempt to thwart what God wanted by cutting off the soldier’s ear. Jesus was rooted, ready, and responsive to what God desired. He’d abided by prayer and fasting in the in-between time.
In-between times are followed by something new. For Jesus, first it was a new way of being in the world as His public ministry began. His second in-between time was followed by His greatest challenge, to faithfully lay down His life for those who tortured Him. It’s reasonable to anticipate new challenges and opportunities to wait on the other side of the in-between time. Our capacity to handle those is deeply influenced by our abiding within the in-between. As we accept and abide now, we prepare ourselves for what’s next and to live as a reproducing disciple in the next.
So, again, welcome aboard this in-between time, or flight Pandemic COVID-19 as I like to call it! We didn’t sign-up for this. And we’ve been forced into a middle seat that feels uncomfortable and never-ending. Still, as Christ followers we know that God is both trustworthy and good. Like it or not, this flight is intended for our good (Rom. 8:28), so let’s make the most of it by accepting it, abiding more deeply in it, and anticipating what’s next.
By Justin Gravitt