On the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, I watched rows of people go up to the altar and return with ashes on their foreheads. I pondered the power of that corporate act, all of us in effect proclaiming together that we desperately need redemption, and we know where to find it. I also noticed that the black smudges on each forehead were distinctly different, varied by who was applying it, whether the recipient wore glasses or had bangs, stayed still or moved, probably even the shape of their foreheads. No two ash crosses were the same. While Lent began with a significant gathering, shared by many throughout the western Christian church, it is also very individual, experienced distinctly by every Christian, depending on our interaction with God as well as the details of our lives, histories, and personalities.
Now, suddenly, with the abrupt shutting down of so much of the world to try to contain the spread of COVID-19, we are thrust into a singular observance of Lent, whether we wanted it or not.
We have an opportunity to see it not so much as enforced isolation, but as an invitation to shalom, and a call to a deep time of Sabbath rest.
God the Creator called the first Sabbath, resting after the work of creation. He took time to stop and delight in all He had made. Then he handed the world to the people he made in his image to carry on, to create and care for his world. The Hebrew nation received the Ten Commandments from God to Moses while out in the wilderness, wandering around after God miraculously freed them from bitter slavery and eliminated their enemies. Among the rules that gave identity, structure, and safety to their lives, God encouraged them to establish the rhythm of their lives by setting one day a week apart from their normal activities, a holy day. A day of rest.
During this pandemic, we have the opportunity to get off the merry-go-round busyness of modern life, to stop even the good things that usually fill our days.
We can turn off the news and reject worry or fear (or stockpiling goods).
We are welcomed to let go of the good and seek the best.
This is our chance to really spend time reading the Bible, asking God to speak, just as he did in the cool of the garden with Adam and Eve, to Moses from the burning bush, through prophets and priests and all kinds of people whose words or stories are recorded for us, for our time.
It is an inducement to pray, and to listen.
What is he preparing you for, in such a time as this?
What might your Creator have to say to you, personally?