I think sometimes God can only get my attention while I am asleep. The dream I remember or the song that comes to mind or the answer to a question that pops up or the thought that remains with me throughout the day are all very important to me. Earlier this week, I woke up wondering what it means to be observing Lent in the midst of a pandemic. Is there something about the isolation and separation we all are experiencing that can help us understand more deeply the meaning of this holy season?
The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. One of the prayers for that day is: "Gracious God, out of your love and mercy you breathed into dust the breath of life, creating us to serve you and neighbors. Call forth our prayers and acts of tenderness, and strengthen us to face our mortality, that we may reach with confidence for your mercy; in Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen."
I do believe that prayer has been answered; I hear of your acts of tenderness toward one another and strangers alike. You are calling or writing me to ask who needs our help. Has anyone called this person? Has anyone heard from that person? I am sure that Susan is fielding questions about how much food is left in our food pantry. Never have I doubted your capacity for love and acts of tenderness. To see it brought forth in such abundance is a blessing.
There is another theme in the Ash Wednesday prayer that bears mentioning today: facing our mortality. One of our Lenten hymns is “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days;” it describes Jesus’ time in the wilderness immediately after his baptism and before his public ministry. (You can read the story in Luke 4.) The opening stanza is: “Lord, who throughout these forty days for us didst fast and pray, teach us with Thee to mourn our sins, and close by Thee to stay.”
We are living in uneasy times in the midst of a strange, new virus. Our routines have been disrupted. Vacations have been cancelled. Gathering spots are closed. Generations in families are keeping their distance one from another. In so many ways, we cannot be close to one another, so the call for Jesus to teach us how to stay close by him is particularly poignant. Let me ask: How is Jesus using this time to get your attention? Do you yearn to be close to him in a way that you have never known before?
Lent is about recognizing our need for God’s forgiveness. Lent is about receiving the mercy of God. Lent is about removing the barriers that prevent the closeness to God that you desire. Lent is, in so many ways, about finding your way home to God. Here is the last stanza of the hymn: "Abide with us, that so, this life of suffering overpast, an Easter of unending joy we may attain at last!" Yes, this is about the joy of eternal life, but eternal life is not something far off in the future. Eternal life, for the Christian, is now. The blessings of life with God are to be found now. The closeness with our Lord and Savior is now.
I woke up this morning thinking about a book by Admiral William H. McRaven called “Make Your Bed.” I laughed at the time, but the more I thought about it, the more sense that thought made. It’s the little things that can change your life. Feeling successful may begin with something as simple as making your bed every day. Feeling close to Jesus may begin as simply as talking to him every day. There is no magic formula. Before you make your bed, try saying your prayers. Just ask: Stay close by me today. Reach with confidence for the mercy of God. God will not fail you or disappoint you.
God bless you and keep you,