“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
—Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)
A recent, widely shared tweet says, “Honestly, I hadn’t planned on giving up quite this much for Lent.” To be sure, I’ve never experienced a Lent like this. Maybe you are dazed and confused, perhaps afraid, or angry at how authorities have responded to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Though in China people are beginning to venture outdoors, bleak news continues to come from Italy and many other countries: there’s a long, difficult road ahead. We’ve had to explain to our children why they can’t visit a beloved grandparent or attend school, or why mom has begun working remotely. We’re trying to cope with the stress caused by the unfolding pandemic while mourning the loss of a job or a loved one. And, following racist incidents against Asians and Asian Americans, I worry about my cousins who work in hospitals and hope that my father won’t be accosted while getting groceries.
Pandemics are not new, of course. Nuns responded bravely and sacrificially in Philadelphia during the 1918 influenza outbreak, while an English village self-quarantined at great cost against the bubonic plague in the 17th century. What certainly is new, though, is how we each choose to respond at this time in history. It’s a moment to consider first things. What really matters in our lives? What are we learning? And how will we love our neighbors, not only now, but when the immediate danger passes?
During this very long Lent, as Tina Clark already invited us, we can “walk the way of love” and become more intentional about our relationship with God and one another. We can offer our talents, our money, or simply ourselves: by organizing food drives and donating money to charities, or regularly checking in with friends, family, or neighbors. (And we can vote in November, too.)
We still can gather as the Body of Christ by watching a live-streamed Holy Eucharist or saying Compline together (via Google Hangout, Zoom, and similar platforms). The Episcopal Church’s Forward Movement ministry also offers many options for Christian education and spiritual development. And we can do all of this from home.
In fact, interchurch families often talk about being a “domestic church”: when couples and parents from different denominations attend their own churches, but intentionally share a life of faith at home that draws from both traditions. Now that public worship is not possible, on Sunday mornings my family and I will say some simple prayers before watching a live Episcopal Holy Eucharist or Catholic Mass, at least until the kids get too squirmy. (My two–year-old daughter still enjoys her Christmas sing-along book, and we’re just going with it!)
These days, when fear of the unknown threatens to overwhelm us, I find comfort in these great, old hymns of the church. I hope that they, and other music, will give you respite and even bring you joy, in the midst of this incredibly difficult time. May God bless and keep us!
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise him, for he is your health and salvation!
Come, all who hear; now to his temple draw near,
join me in glad adoration.
Praise to the Lord, above all things so wondrously reigning;
sheltering you under his wings, and so gently sustaining!
Have you not seen all that is needful has been
sent by his gracious ordaining?
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing:
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work his woe;
His craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth is his name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
How is being the church going in your home?
[Abide with me; fast falls the eventide written by Henry Francis Lyte,
Public Domain, Praise to the Lord! the Almighty, the King of creation! written by Joachim Neader, translated by Catherine Winkworth, Public Domain
A mighty fortress is our God written by Martin Luther, Public Domain]