Easter in Quarantine — Grace in the Wilderness
Well this is one of the weirdest Resurrection Sundays ever in a long time. Or saddest? Or most anti-climactic? It is hard to put words to. It may feel like hope & joy are suspended “until things get back to normal.” (Whatever that may be…). It seems as if the calendar got it wrong somehow this year!
Of course, it isn’t that some of us haven’t experienced sadness at a Resurrection Celebration service before today. – My own father died shortly before Easter 10 yrs ago; I remember that particular Sunday being both difficult and joyful. Some years, perhaps due to an illness, or a financial hardship, or a relationship in need of mending, you, too, have come to the end of Lent feeling more like Good Friday lingering than the joy of the empty tomb. We’ve each likely felt much as those did who approached Jesus’ tomb in the early dawn that day so long ago.
But we’ve never all experienced it all at the same time. The collective unknowingness, the group grief; the all engulfing sense of powerlessness in the face of an invisible, potentially deadly threat. The fear & the worry gripping the nations is as contagious as the virus that has endangered people we care for. Moreover, in one fell swoop, the medical crisis has ground an entire global economy, if not to a screeching halt, to a molasses-like slowdown. Which of course brings more anxiety & a deeper sense of the intangible being out of our control. Not to mention the personal wildernesses I know many of you are experiencing that have nothing to do with the virus, and yet are compounded by it.
However, although the media throws around words like “unprecedented” w/ regards to the worldwide experience of this pandemic, it isn’t the 1st time the world has endured similar trauma. I believe we felt some of this together immediately following 9/11/2001; About 100 yrs ago, there was the Spanish flu epidemic that took my own great grandfather’s life – as well as probably some of your own relatives; before that, the plagues that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages. And over the last couple of decades, so many occurrences of our nation mourning repeated mass shootings like have happened in Columbine, Orlando, Sandy Hook, and so many others! Not to mention devastating tsunamis, or earthquakes, or windstorms. But afterwards, a “new normal” seems to come about and life does go on – resembling perhaps what was before, but never entirely the same.
In Jeramiah’s time, the entire nation of Israel was enduring exile in a foreign land, far from home, away from those they loved. They were far from the Temple where they believed they were best able to experience God’s presence and power. God’s people had begun to believe that they had been abandoned by God, that their prayers were merely mist in the wind, and that any hope they once had of returning to their homeland had evaporated completely! But the prophet Jeremiah brought words of promise to them: (ch. 31: 1-6)
- that there was grace to be found – even in the wilderness
- That God had never abandoned them, tho he seemed far away
- That God loved them w/ an everlasting, enduring, forever love
- That the separation would come to an end
- And that they would once more worship in the sanctuary with joy and merrymaking
Now, I’m sure these words of Jeremiah were far from the minds of the women who went to tend to Jesus’ body. No, I imagine that on their way to their friend’s tomb, they felt that the desolation of the graveyard matched the wilderness of grief in their hearts. Because an ancient Palestinian cemetery looked nothing like the ones to which we are accustomed. There were no manicured lawns, no carefully placed flowers & mementoes, no trees overhead graciously providing shade in the desert climate. No one in that time and place would waste fertile ground that could support olive groves, vineyards & wheat fields for burial of the dead. Burial grounds were rocky, barren, desolate stretches of land. Graves were carved into rocks and crags. The dead were placed where nothing else was able to live. Pictures of Middle Eastern cemeteries look much the same today. And if that is isn’t wilderness, I don’t know what is.
So on that 1st Sunday following the horrendousness that was the crucifixion, certainly “wilderness” must have been the state of their minds and their spirits! But where they expected to experience their deepest sorrow, instead, they encountered unprecedented grace! There was fear – but it began to be eclipsed by unimaginable joy – because the one they loved whom they thought dead had been resurrected to declare God’s victory over death and the grave; Once more, they felt hope stirring in their hearts; they were empowered again for their journey. Then, as they stepped out in faith to obey the message they received, they met Jesus on the way. Thus encouraged, these women became the first evangelists – the first to spread the Good News that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead to bring life to the world. (Matt. 28: 1-10)
So, while we are currently in a Corona Virus wilderness – Jeremiah’s promise is also for us – we too can discover grace in this desert. Whether you are loving your neighbor by sheltering in place or working from home; if you are putting yourself at risk for the sake of essential services such as health care, or food services, or emergency first responders – I proclaim the same promise as Jeremiah declared so long ago: There is grace to be found where you are; God is present in your daily living; Moreover, we will once more regather in the sanctuary to join our voices in song, lift our hearts together in prayer & to share God’s peace in person.
In the meantime, we recognize we don’t know the long-range impact of the consequences of Covid-19. Certainly, the “new normal” will not replicate what was before. But by God’s grace, there can be some positive from these weeks of “exile in place” we have experienced together/apart. Perhaps the tragedy authored by the pandemic will inspire us to a deeper compassion for those who suffer; Perhaps we will begin to practice more intentional reaching out to include many who’ve been absent. Perhaps now that attention has been drawn to the massive deficits in our national emergency preparedness, there will be effective resolutions put in place to help us deal better with the next event. Perhaps we become more proactive at filling the gaps in food security & medical care for the marginalized. Perhaps, having been forced to refrain from activities that we have taken for granted, we will be led to rightly prioritize that which needs to be kept, & what we can discard; Perhaps we will learn to intentionally continue doing those things that have given us peace and consolation in the long waiting.
And perhaps, like those who first approached that tomb, we will find ourselves able to set aside our fear & trembling in order to joyfully express where we have encountered Jesus on the road; We can learn to share where we have “found grace in our wilderness.” For, whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in this day, the resurrection is proof that God has loved us with an everlasting love, made known to us in Christ Jesus. A love so powerful, that even death cannot win. Because regardless of where we are “at” today, we dare trust that Christ has Risen! He has risen indeed!. Amen
In his peace,