Lent begins this year on February 17 with Ash Wednesday. It was observed by the church since apostolic times, before becoming official at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. Its purpose was to be a time of preparation and fasting during the 40 days before Easter.
People have traditionally “given up” something dear to them as part of their spiritual discipline during Lent. Others have used this time as an opportunity to “add something,” such as in-depth study of scripture, regular prayer, or mindful care of themselves and others.
These pandemic times began for us a year ago during last year’s Lent season. Since that time, we have experienced disruptions to our day-to-day lives as well as disruptions to our worship life and the spiritual, educational, and fellowship practices in our congregations. We have “given up” much since Lent last year, and continue to grieve these losses to our life style, while mourning especially the loss of friends and loved ones whose presence death has removed from us.
During that same time, we have “added things” in our lives as we figured out how to adapt to the pandemic challenges with which we’ve been faced; we have shown love for our neighbor by wearing masks, practicing physical distance from others, and washing, but also by being innovative and using technology to gather, connect, and engage each other in Christ’s church.
In the New Testament, St. Paul lists the gifts of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Among those gifts is patience. The dictionary defines patience as: enduring annoyance, misfortune or pain without irritation; the ability to suppress restlessness or annoyance when faced with delay; or steady perseverance and diligence. Sometimes we wonder why God calls upon us to be patient and “wait upon the Lord,” while it seems to us that God should work more quickly to remove obstacles from our path.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a French priest, paleontologist, theologian, teacher, and philosopher. He is known for thinking that human beings are in the process of moving toward a final spiritual unity with God and reunion with Christ “in whom all things hold together” (Col. 1:17), made possible through Christ’s incarnation and redemption. He wrote a prayer poem about patient trust in the work of God. There are several parts which I’d like to highlight for you as we prepare to enter this year’s Lenten journey. He writes:
“ … We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time…. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
This Lent we will continue to experience the losses and disruptions this pandemic has caused in our day-to-day and congregational lives. We’ve been living through the dismay of increasing numbers of virus cases, fears about virus mutations, cautious optimism about new therapies, anticipation for developing vaccines, and the frustration and anxiety connected to getting vaccinations. At the same time, we’ve been nimble in adapting our behaviors to our unique circumstances, knowing that in waiting on the Lord, we will grow in our endurance and perseverance.
We grow increasingly impatient for things to return to the way they were or, perhaps more accurately, the way we would want them to be. We continue to “give up” things we’ve loved to do, while “adding to” and showing love for our neighbor by adapting our behaviors and practices for the good of all.
The words in Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer remind us that God is still in charge and at work in our lives. Scripture puts it this way: “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish” (2 Pt. 3:9). We are called to “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage….”(Ps. 27:14). For “…those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles….”(Isa. 40:31).
People of God, you remain in my prayers as you navigate these difficult days. May God comfort you and give you the peace and assurance that God loves you and holds you close. May God’s Holy Spirit carry you through the hurdles of these days “…with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2), for “love is patient” (1 Cor. 13:4). And may you be encouraged by the promise that God is working within us and among us, and rejoice that Immanuel, God with us, whose birth we celebrated at Christmas, and whose life, passion, and death we ponder in the coming weeks, also journeys with us through our personal Lenten days and Passion weeks, to bring us once again to Easter joy.
+Bishop Wilma S. Kucharek