March 29, 2021

A New World Record

You won’t find it in the Guinness Book, but we’re setting a world record that hopefully won’t be repeated. Normally the season of Lent lasts for forty days, after which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter. But what I see is that Lent began on February 26, 2020 and never finished. We’ve been locked down in the pandemic for a whole year, and it hasn’t let up yet.

The Book of Common Prayer tells us that for more than a thousand years “it’s been the custom of the church to prepare for Good Friday and Easter by a season of penitence and fasting.” (p. 264) Lent is a time for stepping back to take a look at our lives, often giving up a comfortable habit for a while to see how that feels. In doing that, we’re following Jesus on his forty-day vision quest in the desert, when he was tempted by Satan and waited on by angels. Then after the darkness and agony of the crucifixion the glorious resurrection comes, as reliably as the sun rising in the east.

2020 was not the first year it didn’t work out that way. In the long history of the church there have been other pandemics and wars and natural disasters that have overshadowed Easter. That’s never happened in my lifetime, however, and I’ve been around for almost 70 years. Despite the ups and downs we’ve gone through, for the most part our country has been insulated from widespread, extended catastrophes. Native people and African-Americans have always known better, but white people like me have been able to live in a bubble.

Though it wasn’t clear at the time, on Ash Wednesday 2020 the virus told us, “This is the year you’re going to give up being in control for Lent.” When we hadn’t learned much from that after forty days, the season was extended. It will stay with us until we finally recognize that we’re not the masters of the universe, that we need to adapt if we’re going to survive. This is a lesson we desperately need to learn, though I’m sorry it’s happening in such a painful way.

Just because it feels like Lent has been going on forever doesn’t mean that there’s been no resurrection. If we really pay attention, it’s clear that Jesus has been right here with us. I see him sitting with lonely patients in ICU’s, comforting people mourning their losses, encouraging everyone who’s sick of being cooped up at home. Best of all, he’s working through our hearts and hands as we reach out to others and help them endure this record-breaking season.

Are we learning from all of this? Clearly, we are not in control of the world, and acting that way is no help. It’s time for that familiar Ash Wednesday blessing again, and the words should be ringing in our ears: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Life on earth is brief and precious. Let’s team up with Jesus and make the most of it.