I wrote this to my parish in our March newsletter at the end of last week, one year after last year’s longest Lent began.
Last March was our transition to the wilderness of pandemic life. On March 1, we entered into the First Sunday in Lent. On March 8, the Bishop visited our parish. By March 15, the last time we gathered for worship in the Nave as usual, the mood was sombre as we shared Communion in one kind only, and broadcast the service to those already sheltering in place. On March 22, we had our first Zoom service from the Chapel. By March 29, we were under a statewide stay-at-home order, and we shared Morning Prayer from our homes.
Since we became aware of this pandemic disease a year ago, more than 500,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the US alone, 100,000 of them in just the past month. We are not yet out of the wilderness.
During Lent, we read of God’s successive covenants with God’s people. We read of their wanderings through the wilderness of flood plain and desert, exile and exodus, displacement and occupation and the hope, always, of return, of resurrection.
We have been in this wilderness for a year now. It will not take us 40 years to reach its far side, but it will remain a part of our faith story, shaping our lament and our hope for years to come. It has physically altered our prayers and our liturgy. It has called us, like Noah, like Abraham, like Moses, into new ways of being and new understandings of God’s presence with us.
Half a million people is a lot of grief to bear. Their weight should slow us down, our footsteps should falter rather than rush toward false hope: a golden calf, an idol of our own making.
We can bear the wilderness a little longer, if staying here means that we are learning to love God and one another in new ways. We can bear it, knowing that God is with us, as God was with the people when they complained and cried out in the desert, and received manna to eat and water from the rock to drink. God is with us, even in the wilderness. Perhaps, especially in the wilderness.
The hope of return and resurrection sustains us, but it is not all that gives us life in the wilderness. The knowledge that God is with us in lament, is with us in hope, is with us in the waiting, the lost days, the wandering and wondering of the wilderness, even the emptiness of Holy Saturday: that is our faith, our rock, the covenant of our salvation.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:13-14)