Two neighbours that attended the same local church looked at each other over their shared, backyard fence. Respecting the two-metre physical distance rule, they waved to each other. And then one spoke up.
“So, what did you give up for Lent this year?”
The answer was tinged with desperation: “Everything!”
This morning I want to speak to those who are self-isolating at home but who otherwise are feeling ok. By this point may be going a bit stir-crazy. I want to speak to those who are feeling a growing anxiety for our world, our communities and who worry increasingly for loved ones on the front lines, stuck in countries far away and for the poor, homeless and vulnerable in this pandemic. I want to speak to those who need to remind ourselves why it is important to be restricting our social practice.
In doing so, it indeed feels like we’ve given up everything. Not just chocolates. Not just those symbolic gestures of religious observance. It feels like Lent this year is truly a journey – and an extra-long one – of exposing all our dearest attachments, our dependencies, our entrenched patterns of behaviour. It’s hard to give all that up.
Someone on my social media posted an old wisdom saying: “When you silence all the busyness and noise around you, then in that silence the noise within will rise …” When our external world shuts down so much as it has during this lockdown, we must face our own selves like never before. We are forced to confront and reassess our most dearly and tightly held social behaviours.
Including how we do church. It seems increasingly so, that the Lenten journey this year is going to last long past the calendar date for Easter. We won’t be seeing each other face-to-face for a while. The end of the crisis will come, but we first have to get there.
Another post I’ve shared on my social media this week is a good one: “Churches are not being closed. Buildings are being closed. You are the church. You are to remain open.” How do we do that? How do we remain open?
We record these short worship services in the sanctuary and wear familiar attire with all the usual trappings. We do this for comfort in the midst of trying times. The comfort of familiarity. We also do this to stimulate the imagination and encourage hope. Imagine the day, and it will come, when we can gather again together in places of worship! I hope that vision encourages us and lifts our spirits.
At the same time and in the midst of this extended Lenten journey, we can’t escape to la-la land, to some disembodied realm of our imagination alone. We can’t pretend that life can only happen when there is no more coronavirus. We can’t delude ourselves into the desperation of believing that we can have life only when there is a vaccine for COVID-19. Life doesn’t happen only once all this is over.
We need to exercise our faith where and when we are. Even in the midst of crisis. We need to discover the life of God—not now in some sanctuary or regular place of worship, but wherever we are: At home, in the grocery story, outside on our walks, helping with food delivery to those most vulnerable; Practising safe, social distancing; Yes, even by facing and acknowledging the anxious, fearful demons within our own hearts.
The point of the raising of Lazarus gospel story is to tell us something true about God. The raising of Lazarus probes the point of Jesus’ resurrection. “I am the resurrection and the life …” Jesus says.
The meaning of the Lenten journey is more than just ‘God for us’. The cross of Jesus is profoundly a sign that “God is with us.” God is in our suffering, alongside us in this difficult journey of fear and anxiety. After all, God in Christ promised to come to make home with us, and dwell with us.
So when, as the old wisdom saying concludes, when we confront the noise within: “… Hold your heart in love. As a mother holds a crying child. Until your heart curls up in the silent love of God.” The pain is one we all share. And so, too, must be our response—a shared response out of love for the neighbour.
In showing compassion and love to our neighbours, we are church. In recognizing the gift of our life despite all of the challenges face, we are church. In recognizing others’ sacrifice for the good of those affected, we are church. In doing our part to create new connections, new ways of being together, new ways to care for others, we are church.
And we continue to be church in the larger life of God in Christ.
John 14:23; Revelation 21:3