By Kay Brockwell
St. Paul UMC, Jonesboro
When we began Lent on Feb. 26, we were certainly not thinking about giving up this much. Not our jobs, not our family gatherings, not our dinners out and movie nights, not our worship services. We were not thinking about giving up affectionate hugs from our friends when we met them. Our teens were not thinking about giving up senior proms and high school basketball championships. Our sports fans were not thinking about giving up March Madness and the first month and a half of major league baseball.
We were not thinking about giving up community.
What a difference four weeks make! Now we are “hunkered down,” making only necessary trips to the grocery and pharmacy and doctor’s office, and being careful to keep the prescribed six feet away from everyone else in the store. In the evenings, we rediscover our families, if we are fortunate enough to still share our homes with them. Unless we’re a health care worker or a first responder or work in what’s deemed essential retail, we’re absent the community of our workplace. Those of us who live alone may go for days without seeing another human being.
Our Lent is fashioned after Jesus’ period of fasting in the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan, and where he withstood those temptations. He spent his 40 days in solitude. And here we are, 2000 years later, spending our days leading to Easter in solitude as well. Our churches are empty. Our Sunday morning church is conducted by Facebook live, YouTube, Zoom meeting or conference call. We, too, are tempted in our solitude; tempted by sloth, by depression, by even further withdrawal from the world we can no longer touch. We, and our church, will emerge from this period time a changed people, and a changed church; the question is how we will change, and how we’ll shape the post-coronavirus church and world.
How do we, then, survive this time in our own little wilderness? While our distractions are lessened, our opportunity to seek God grows. Without the tyranny of a schedule and a calendar, we can spend more time in His presence. We can take time to sit quietly in his presence, not petitioning, not praising, just aware of his presence in us. We can, perhaps, begin a practice of meditation and contemplative prayer.
We can spend more time showing love to those with whom we live, and to others in our community. We can craft wonderful meals, build long-awaited projects, play in the back yard; we can take a home-cooked meal to a neighbor (leaving it on their porch). We can call a shut-in or someone who lives alone and pick up their groceries when we shop. We can mail a card or a small gift.
We can re-establish our church community through a combination of technology and inventiveness. If most of our members are elderly and not online, we can have conference call services. We can offer drive-up Communion, complete with masks and surgical gloves and individually packaged elements. We can move a pulpit and sound system to the parking lot and hold a drive-in church. We can establish online prayer groups and Bible studies.
We can reach out to those we don’t know by providing food for feeding programs, or in neighborhood “free pantries,” or to our local food bank. We can continue to provide for the many needs that don’t stop because we are quarantined – infant formula, children’s clothing, online one-to-one tutoring for school children, meeting the needs of our homeless.
Most of all, we can remember the many times God has promised that he will never forsake his people. Quarantine may separate us; let us not allow it to forsake each other.