February 18, 2021

Ministering to Those in the Trenches

Jesus's last living moments are described in the Gospel of Mark, "When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'...Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last."

I imagine that many people have cried out these words over the last 365 days. Perhaps out loud. Perhaps in the depths of their souls.

There are lots of words to describe what has happened over these many months. But no words to accurately depict the experience of individuals. Particularly those occupying the trenches of tragedy.

I am always curious what we will preach to those in the trenches. Especially as a challenging liturgical season like Lent approaches. As a fellow Vital Practices blogger, Alan Bentrup has written, "We're approaching Lent, after the lentiest year that many of us alive have ever experienced."

In Bentrup's excellent article, Preparing for the End of the World, he used the end of the world as a metaphor for the church shedding some of its old ways and finding new life. I want to think more personally about this idea. If the world were to end all at once, it would be devastating. If the world of the church were to end as we knew it, that would be hard to handle. But none of it compares to the personal experience of having your specific and individual world end as the globe keeps spinning.

Many of us know people whose worlds have ended in the last year. People who have had loved ones die due to COVID-19. People who have lost jobs, income and livelihood. People who have lost touch and time with their families and friends. People who have lost a sense of themselves. I know people. I am one of those people.

Even though words don't come close to describing such individual and personal experience, I do find that the Scriptures can depict them with stunning accuracy. These experiences are the moments and days after Jesus's death. It's Holy Saturday. It's Jesus laid in the tomb. And the stone that covers the tomb's entrance. It's the day before Easter when you don't know what Easter is.

This season, I am praying for my colleagues, both lay and ordained, and for myself. The prayer is that we do not opt to take a Lent-lite approach as we preach and minister. There is no need to go easy. There is every reason to commit to the season more than we ever have before. We are less likely to pull people out of the trenches from on high. Yet if we take the good news of the good book down into the trenches and live with people there for a season, we may be able to safely and lovingly guide them out. If nothing else, we will remind them that God has not forgotten or left them. We will remind them that the stone to the tomb can be rolled away. That we can be surprised to find that there is no Jesus laid to rest. That even after the longest of Holy Saturdays, there is an Easter.

This blog is part of a series for the Good Book Club. Learn more about the Good Book Club here.