Grace and Peace to you.
So today I am writing this in my IRL (In Real Life) office (where I am by myself) during a break in the intense task of trying to modify all of our spiritual growth activities and worship services for live-streaming. It’s a whole new world. In a few short weeks life in the United States has changed drastically; we who have lived largely insulated from things like “outbreaks” and shortages of medical equipment have now been thrust into a world that is starting to resemble something out of dystopian fiction. We are learning words and phrases like “pandemic” and “social distancing”, we now know what “flatten the curve” means, we are hyper aware of personal distance and hand-washing. In short, we have been thrust into a new reality, a reality that is frightening and that we weren’t prepared for. We are scared. We feel alone. We don’t know what is next. Therefore it seems somewhat appropriate that as we face this crisis we are also in the middle of the season of Lent; the time in the Christian calendar when we devote ourselves to fasting, to prayer and to contemplation of the journey of Christ to the Cross. It is a season when we are aware of the cycle of death and rebirth, beginning on Ash Wednesday when we mark our own heads with ashes to remind ourselves that we are “dust and to dust we shall return”; words that remind us that in order to have new life, we must die. Little did we know at the end of February that we would spend our Lenten season literally contemplating mortality, or that our fasting would involve fasting from gathering together in groups. And yet, here in the midst of our shared experience of fear, our shared Lenten journey, the promise is evident. God is present. There will be an Easter.
That is beauty and the power of the cross; that even in the midst of fear, uncertainty and isolation life cannot be stopped. Even when we are huddled in our houses, the bond between us that is forged in baptism cannot be broken. Even when each hour brings more frightening news, when the world around us seems to be ending, new life cannot be smothered. God is here. Ashes will give way to rivers of living water and a cross will reveal and empty tomb. That is the promise we hold onto.
One of my favorite descriptions of the promise of Lent comes from Walter Brueggeman’s poem “Move Off the Page” in which he addresses God by saying “Be your Friday self, that your world may be Eastered.”
Be your Friday self. God’s Friday self is incarnate in Jesus; the One who entered into our flesh, who goes before us in our human experience, who knows the agony of lying in a hospital bed attached to a ventilator, and the sorrow of sitting by that same hospital bed watching a loved one who is sick. The One who works from home with family, worried about how to pay the bills, teach the children, get food on the table, keep the family healthy. The One who treats the sick with not enough equipment, the One who comes into work to clean and sanitize everything so that others may be safe, the One who brings food to those who are isolated, The One who stands calm and fearless as a leader and the One who needs reassurance. God’s Friday self in Christ Jesus is the One who knows we are afraid and who whispers “fear not, for I am with you.” God’s Friday self goes before us to remind us that we will be Eastered, the world will be Eastered; for we are joined together in Christ Jesus, no matter where we are, and we are given the Holy Spirit to strengthen us, to get us through the anxiety, to comfort us in our grief, to carry us through the season to an empty tomb, a glorious sunrise, and a world that has been Eastered.
Take heart. Do not fear. Know that God is with you.
God of all things, in Jesus you became your Friday self; entering into our lives and into our very deaths, taking upon yourself all that is broken, all that is evil and all that we fear and you did this so that we may be made whole, that we may be made clean, so that we may be without fear, so that we may have Life. Remind us now of that promise. In the midst of our fear, our collective anxiety and grief give us the Peace that we need. In the midst of our reactive tendency to pull away, join us together in spirit. In the midst of our tendency to forget others who suffer, make us compassionate. Open us to your presence, breathe in us your wisdom, your compassion and your peace. Give us strength to walk this journey, and the assurance of your promise that on the other side of the cross is an empty tomb. In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.
Yours in Christ,