This Lenten season is unlike any other I have lived through, with the threat of serious illness and death all around, businesses shuttered, people losing their jobs, the stock market crashing, social isolation, and responsibilities that people don’t know how they can meet. So many of us are staying home in order to “flatten the curve” to keep the virus from spreading so quickly that it overwhelms the health care system, while health care workers and others courageously carry on for our well-being, risking exposure every day.
This is the context of Lent this year. The story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, his forty days in the wilderness, his betrayal by the Powers that be, and his journey to the cross resonate for those of us who see these events from his life long ago as an ongoing dynamic that continues in the world today. As theologian Dorothee Solle said, “In the midst of reality stands the cross.”
So far, I have it easier than many. I’m staying home. I’m experiencing a sense of spaciousness and appreciating the gift of time—more time for prayer (which we so badly need) and for other spiritual practices that foster a deeper relationship with God. I am also finding ways to contribute to family, community, and world from where I am, via telephone, by becoming more versed in Zoom, by catching up with work on our nonprofit, and by working to create a mutual aid group among our neighbors. There is plenty to keep me occupied.
But as always, this pandemic will disproportionately impact those who are most vulnerable. Yes, elders (like me) are most vulnerable to dying of the virus, but others are seriously impacted even now, and will be as the weeks go on. I think of the children whose lives have been changed so completely, who are cut off from school and friends; parents who work but have to stay home to care for their children; families who don’t have health insurance, people who are sick, disabled, or without permanent shelter, people who are already confined and socially isolated, elders without support. Surely emergency laws to protect our vulnerable neighbors should be a priority, not just during this pandemic, but always.
Countering these impacts will require us to not only to reach out in compassion to individuals, but also to work for justice. This means advocating for policies that protect the well-being of the most vulnerable and working to transform the current system, which is not designed for people or planet but for multiplying wealth for the people at the top. Although the actors have changed, the Domination System goes on, and the ruling Powers even today are often blind to what compassion and justice require. “None of the rulers of this [or any] age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Corinthians 2:8.
I will continue to stay home and immerse myself in God, but I will also be available to reach out to others in compassion and to work for justice, prioritizing the most vulnerable. I close with these words that Martin Luther wrote during a plague in 1527, “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague.” After the plague he lived another nineteen years.
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
Reprinted from Lent and Covid 19 at Sharon’s Progressive Christian Social Action blog.