The Longest Lent
Lent began eight months ago today.
Eight months ago I was in a cool, dark sanctuary, listening to my vicar say “You are going to die.” I didn’t know how accurate that statement would be for this year. We rose, row by row. Ashes were traced across my forehead, I returned to my seat. We rose, row by row, again going forward—this time to receive the bread, the wine. In darkness we stepped into February chill. Ash Wednesday was the only evening Lenten service I got to attend in person this year. Not a single evening of Holy week was spent in that dark church sanctuary with fellow believers. We weren’t present together in the darkness of Easter morning that bursts into light and noise and exuberant alleluias.
Oh, yes, I “attended” Holy Week services and Easter morning on-line. But that isn’t the same—not even close. I haven’t worshipped, truly worshipped, physically together with other believers for eight months. It feels like the longest Lent in the history of the church calendar. It feels like Easter was an anticlimax or like it didn’t even happen… Like it was swallowed up in the darkness, buried in the ashes of burned hopes, dreams, plans, businesses, cities, and people.
In August I gathered with many others to remember our friend Mike Adams, who took his life in this season of darkness. He is a standout to me, because he is someone I know. . . Yet he is one among many. The number of suicides this year are, in some demographics, outpacing the number of virus deaths. No need to tell me this virus is killing people—I know it is—but the power plays surrounding the virus are killing people in other ways, whether physically through suicide or because of division that makes one citizen stab another for not wearing a mask; or internally, spiritually, emotionally isolating us from one another. . . Keeping us apart at home, or six feet away, cancelling events, or putting masks between our faces, stifling our expressions of vulnerability, kindness, concern, and even of anger or fear. If no one can see our expressions of pain, how can they reach out to us? Are they afraid to hug us? If I can’t see the look of loss on someone’s face, how will I know “You too? I thought I alone knew that grief. . .” and be able to wrap them in love?
How do we invite others into our pain, into our sorrow, into our deep joys, into a place of hope, if we cannot be close, if we cannot see the human expressions of these things across each other’s faces? To be isolated while six feet away from someone—to be denied physical affection and warm greetings—is worse than being alone at home. Those six feet are the extreme loneliness of being alone in a crowded room. It is like the searing pain of being close to your beloved, but being just unable to reach them, to touch them.
This season feels like birth pangs gone wrong. It feels like something is terribly wrong with the baby and it isn’t moving. . . The thing we’ve been looking toward, the hope at the end of the morning sickness, the joy at the end of labour, the person to join our family has been snatched away, and we are left to bury our dead in isolated grief—with no hugs, with no real place for grief or anger to go.
It feels like the longest Lent. In the normal Lenten season we are together in our lament. We gather together to acknowledge that something isn’t right. We encourage one another to take heart that the King is coming. We hope for one another, when others can’t hope for themselves. But this Lenten season is isolation—not the solitude or quiet reflection of Lent—and it is the work of the enemy of our souls. Dividing, separating in every possible way.
Where is the hope? Where is the empty tomb of this season that has killed us in more than body? Where is the Easter coming out of this mourning? Where is the light in this darkness? Where is the King?
Maybe this horrible, longest Lent is in some way our taste of what the disciples felt when Jesus died. We know the end of that story, but they didn’t. We know on Good Friday that Easter is coming. They didn’t. And maybe this interminable Lent is our truly dark Holy Saturday. It is our season where we can’t see what is happening in the spiritual realm. We can’t see the Easter about to come.
Maybe we will die before we understand what it was all about, but we must remember that Jesus will never be held down by death. Jesus will never be defeated by the enemy of our souls. Death and satan will one day be undone. The Kingdom will come in its fullness. And that won’t be an anticlimactic Easter in the time of covid. It will be the greatest celebration of life and love and sacred community. . . It will be seeing face-to-face and still living.
Easter is coming. . .