Statistics are showing that social distancing is working, And yet, we are still hearing stories of people, groups, and congregations rebelling against the directives given by our leaders.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Romans 13:1, 7
In the social distancing and stay home directives, we are asked to give up many things. We are giving up routines and rituals, comforts and assurances, as well as some of the “stuff” to which we have become accustomed. Amazon boxes used to show up on my porch fairly often with books, office supplies, and some fun things too. My dog is missing the UPS treats!
It is interesting to notice my own reaction to the changes imposed on my life as a result of COVID-19. Sometimes a little rebellion, some frustration, some sadness, and some moody statements, “I didn’t need it anyway.” How quickly I shift into. “It’s going to be ok.” “It’s worth the sacrifice.” “Others have given up or lost so much more.” matters. Quite honestly, I did not need it anyway.
What is it that is prompting people to ignore the directives and leaders as they, too, navigate this unchartered territory? Withholding judgment and anger, I will not even speculate.
I miss my church. So, I light a candle, open my Bible, and imagine someone somewhere at that exact moment is reading scripture with me, and I pray with them and for them.
I miss my friends. So, I make calls, write letters, face-time when I can, and remember with compassion all those who felt alone even before all this began.
I miss the freedom to go wherever, whenever. So, I walk outside. Interesting how luxurious this feels now. I am mindful of those who are without even this.
I miss the exchange of hugs. So, I stop and pray for all those who have been lost or have lost loved ones to this virus.
Jesus knew very well the feelings of isolation and disconnect from those he needed for support.
He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Matthew 26:37-41
This is but a moment. Stay strong and keep watch.
As you read this, know that this day you are in my prayers. I am sending you love. I know with certainty you are not alone. God is with you. Prayer is our most significant connection. Close your eyes, breathe deep and feel the love surrounding you.
I feel it is essential to study and spend time with the events that transpired leading up to the Resurrection of Jesus. It is a beautiful time for me, with all the pain and suffering, to see the events unfolding into joy. This year, as I was contemplating the moments before the crucifixion of Christ, the individuals who each played a role in these pivotal moments struck me. In Luke’s account of the story, these are the players I see:
- The chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death.
- Judas, who after Satan entered him, went to the chief priests and officers and agreed to betray Jesus for money. He later joins Jesus and the disciples at the Passover meal.
- Peter and John were sent by Jesus to find and prepare a place for them to meet and eat the Passover meal together.
- A man carrying a jar of water leads Peter and John to a home.
- The owner of the house offers his guestroom for the gathering.
- The apostles spend time at Jesus’ final meal disputing which one of them is the greatest.
- Simon Peter, in fear, denies knowing Jesus three times and yet Jesus tells him he will pray for him and that Peter will turn back and strengthen others.
- A disciple, in fear and haste, strikes the slave of a high priest and cuts off his ear.
- Three people point Peter out and say he is one of the followers of Jesus.
- The men who held Jesus ridicule and beat him.
- Pilate, finding no fault in Jesus, sentences him to appease the crowd.
- Herod, who questioned Jesus, found no guilt, then with his soldiers mocked and treated Jesus with contempt, put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate.
- Barabbas escaped his own death only because of the uproarious attention on Jesus.
- Simon of Cyrene, who by happenstance was traveling in the area, was called to carry the cross behind Jesus.
- The women were mourning and lamenting for Jesus.
- One criminal hanging next to Jesus derided him and told him to save all of them.
- The criminal on the other side said they deserved to die, while Jesus did not and faithfully asks Jesus to remember him in the Kingdom of Heaven.
- The people cast lots for his clothing.
- People stood by watching.
- Leaders sneered at him and said, “If he is the Messiah let him save himself.”
- The soldiers mocked him and offered him sour wine.
- The centurion, after witnessing the events of the day, said, “Surely, this man was innocent.”
- Joseph, a member of the council who did not support the plan, asked for Jesus’ body to see Him properly buried before the Sabbath.
- Women prepared the spices and ointments for his body.
In Luke 22:22,Jesus says, “The Son of Man is going as it has been determined.”
And I wonder, have all of these people been predestined for their roles all along? Was there any other option for Judas other than to be “Judas the Betrayer?” Did the man who offered the room to the disciples have the opportunity to say no? Are our lives predestined and we just are who we are?
I have to believe we make choices every day. The choices we make are based on our predisposition, our personality, and our experiences. How do we make sure we are like the man who leads the disciples to the house and like the owner who welcomes them and offers a room? Can we decide to be like Peter who after repeating bad behavior recovers and leads others to Christ? Can we be like Simon who assists Jesus with his heavy burden? Can we decide not to be like the many people in the story who were deliberately or maybe even accidentally malicious?
I believe we can. We have the gift of the Scriptures. When we open our hearts and minds to the truths revealed in God’s word not only do we begin to understand the truths offered to us there, but also, the love of God becomes part of our personal experiences. I don’t think the people in this story got to the place they were by accident. They arrived there by choice. They chose to believe in and follow the truth, the truth of flawed humanity, and a perfect plan for redemption. They chose Love.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love. Lamentations 3:17-32 (NIV)
Often faith is the difference between a person who is fearful and miserable, and a person who is hopeful and joyful.
Without faith in ourselves, we struggle to accomplish things. Without faith in others, we lack trust, and without faith in something bigger and more loving than ourselves, we fail to have hope for the future.
Faith brings confidence that, amid difficulties, we are being challenged, strengthened and upheld. I love the verse that says it is good to bear the yoke when we are young. So true! We will all have difficulties at some point in our lives. But when we are young, we have energy and openness to growth. If we know where to look, we have support from those who have “been there done that.” It also gives me hope that our youth struggling, though painful to see, is building their character and strengthening them so that they will be able to carry on into the future.
I, like the author in Lamentations, remember the struggles of my youth and I also remember the reconciliation of those struggles. In those moments there was growth, and I benefit from the faith and resolve that makes today’s difficulties seem lighter and less painful to move through. With confidence in the God who loves me, the people who sustain me, and the inner strength that guides me I am convinced of the impermanence of life’s difficulties. I am confident in the goodness of the world. And, I am most fulfilled in the joy of it all.
With faith, we believe in the positive outcome of all things. With faith, we believe in the essential goodness of humankind, and with faith, we are confident in our potential for growth.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 (NIV)