Virtual Worship – Lent 4

Since we could not meet in person today – our community met together online via Zoom video conferencing. There were about 50 of us there and it was such a blessing to see each other’s faces and be able to connect with one another during our time of “sheltering in place.” Below are parts of the service we shared with the congregation, including readings, hymns, and a message from Bob.



This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.

Pema Chödrön “We can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure… Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic–this is the spiritual path.”


“As Long As it Takes,” Bob Ryder

Mark 1:9-13 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

I took in hours and hours of news coverage this past week – even more than usual.  I bet I’m not the only one.  Somewhere around Wednesday I read an article on the history of pandemics and stumbled on a connection between this sudden, disorienting mandate for social-distancing called “shelter in place” and the season of Lent.  The very appropriate order issued by Governor Pritzker this weekend is a rare, large-scale version of quarantine, where people are isolated from one another to prevent the spread of disease.  The practice has been used sporadically and with varying degrees of responsibility and success over thousands of years.  As it happens, the origin of the word quarantine is from the Italian “quaranta giorni”, or “40 days.”  During the 14th century, in an effort to protect coastal cities from epidemics, cautious port authorities required ships arriving in Venice from other ports troubled by infectious diseases to sit at anchor for 40 days – “quaranta giorni” – before landing. Translated, the relationship to Lent – a 40 day season of voluntary austerity – becomes obvious.  The longer I think about it, the less the connection seems like a linguistic coincidence and more like there’s an important underlying connection.

During his time in the wilderness, Jesus faced unwanted hardships, at least in early versions of the story.  Matthew and Luke both say that Jesus was lead by the Spirit into the wilderness as if by a travel guide.  Mark isn’t so gentle – he says the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, as in against his will.  That speaks more to the moment we find ourselves in.  We’re certainly not to the point where we’re going without food or shelter – and for most of us it’s unlikely to get to that point, though we should be very mindful than a lot of our neighbors and fellow citizens are very much at risk of losing access to basic necessities for survival.  For our part, at the moment we’re having to make do without access to in-person company and or coming and going as we please, and that’s not nothing.

As time passes, we’re certain to be approached with offers for quick fixes as Jesus was in other versions of the story.  There are already scams out there promising you can treat or prevent the virus with this or that supplement, or that you can get a test for the virus through the mail by ordering online.  Neither of those are true.  No doubt there’ll be solicitations to buy shares of this or that stock – certain to go through the roof as they develop a vaccine or invent a machine that lets you make your own toilet paper from leaves and grass clippings.  Keep n mind the old sayings.  “if it sounds too good to be true…”  “Let th buyer beware.”  Jesus didn’t fall for promises of magical solutions to his challenges.  We shouldn’t either.  Sometimes life is difficult and trying to evade the challenges only makes things worse.

Another striking story I came across – a set of sorties, actually – also speaks to this unusual version of Lent we find ourselves in.  There are a bunch of creative ways people are finding to help each other out as we get our bearings in this new reality, however short lived we hope it might be.  Within a single day of the schools closing, a local restaurant owner was setting up to feed school kids who relied on getting breakfasts and lunches at schools.  Another local merchant was able to order cases of toilet paper and offered rolls at cost to families who need it because hoarders had emptied the shelves at grocery stores.  Several families I know are continuing to pay baby sitters and house cleaners even while they’re not allowed to work during the shelter at home quarantine.  Another friend told me about a group that meets weekly for breakfast sending money that they would have paid for tips by mail to a waitress they all appreciate.

Nobody would have asked for this wilderness moment – this “quaranta giorni” – we were driven to it.  But it might do us some good of we pay attention.  The phrase 40 days was a Hebrew idiom that meant “as long as it takes.”  Certainly we hope things will get back to normal – maybe even a better version of normal – sooner than later.  But while we’re in this quarantine edition of Lent, what we might come to appreciate is this: the things that makes us okay are different that the things we’re used to.  What makes us alright isn’t getting what we want when we want it.  What makes us alright is being true to ourselves even when it’s hard – especially when it’s hard.  It’s being honest and generous and compassionate.  It’s taking care of each other and those around us for as long as it takes.

Pastoral Prayer and Prayer of St. Francis –
Sacred Spirit of this quarantine Lenten wilderness, help us to know it is not by chaos we are brought to this moment, not by the evil designs of human or demon, but by you. Like Jesus in Mark’s story, this is not the reality we wished for – not for ourselves nor for one another – but it is the reality in which we find ourselves.  Deprived of our normal access to movement and to each other, we trust that we are not deprived of you.  Sometimes we’re in the role of Jesus, and sometimes we’re the angels who tend to him.  We lift into your care our family, our friends and neighbors, our leaders, our adversaries and enemies.  May this moment of challenge open our hearts that we find freedom to offer the best version of ourselves.  Where there is illness, may we contribute to healing, where there is loneliness, may we offer companionship.  Where there is need, may we give from our abundance.  Be with all those whom we’ve named aloud as well as with those whom we name now in the silence of our hearts…

May this wilderness experience free us from the distractions and delusions that keep us from growing into your image, daughters and sons of the Sacred, sisters and brothers of Christ.  Remembering the words of St. Francis…

Lord, make us instruments of your peace
Where there is hatred, let us bring love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that we may
Not seek so much to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life – Amen


Go forth from this digital space into your daily lives, we will carry each other in our hearts. Until we meet again may you be encircled by the light of the Sacred and filled with peace and love. Amen.