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A Lenten Pandemic: get to the watchtower.

At the end of every year the church calendar takes us from Advent into Lent. We celebrate the birth of a child who would suffer death to save the world from sin. We are in the last week of Lent right now, Holy Week. Giving up chocolate, coffee, sugar, or wine seems too small. I never know what to “sacrifice.” Sugar doesn’t compare to the fatigue, rejection, loss of blood, smashed bones, torn flesh, shame, and mockery Jesus endured. They aren’t even comparable. I don’t know of any way I can align myself with his sacrifice in order to understand it at all. Nonetheless, Lent is meaningful to me. Paul’s words from Philippians 3 give a fuller understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering.” The suffering is the part I’m not so sure about. The great misunderstanding about Christianity is that once we take the leap, confess our need for Jesus to forgive our rebellion and self-worship, life will blossom like the April flowers we have started to see pop up in our yards. Joy will overflow and heaviness will disappear. In some sense this is true, but in many ways, it’s not. Paul wants to know Jesus, to really know him, and subsequently be like him. The grueling reality is, suffering is the gateway to solidarity. We may wish it weren’t true, but it is. We all want to experience the power of the resurrection, to have confidence, strength, and hope. To be free from strongholds, and experience joy and contentment. However, the cross came first. Lent began in 2020 on February 26. Interestingly, the Coronavirus broke onto US soil only a month before. There is nothing mystical about the timing, but it does elicit my attention. As governments began to require restaurants, bars, schools, and businesses to close their doors, I began to feel Lent fall over the entire world. Restrictions are placed on people from state to state to “shelter in place,” to leave only for food or medical assistance. The number of cases and deaths are rising each day. Flights out of the country are shut down, streets in major cities such as NY, Chicago, and San Fransisco are empty. Press conferences are held nightly as the President, Vice President, and COVID-19 task force update the American public on what is happening and what needs to happen. The images are sights we have seen for the first time. Our lifestyles have changed in a few short weeks. How do we handle food? How far do we stand apart from others? How do we disinfect after going out? Nothing is as it should be. Every year Lent comes around to remind us that something isn’t right. We need a solution to a problem we can’t fix. We need to be saved. Lent cries out: “stand at the watch tower and wait for the light.” Our love of money, self-promotion all over the internet, idolatry of family, work, stuff, obsession with immediate gratification, defensive postures that assumes everyone is dangerous and untrustworthy, and the ongoing trust we put in ourselves…everyone one of us is guilty; every one of us in need of a Savior. Pushing and shoving, we pine away to make life go how we want it to go, to look how we want it to look. Seeking our own way, we have slammed the door in his face. Something isn’t right. So we climb to the top of the watch tower and cry out. We wait for someone to rescue us from ourselves. COVID-19 comes at an interesting time. I wonder if we're supposed to notice. The cross comes before the resurrection. Suffering can lead to something better if we allow it to do its work instead of fight it, ignore it, or grow a bitter root. Gratitude comes when things are snatched away. The list of of what we will appreciate after COVID-19 is over grows longer each day. The most ordinary things have gotten lost in our abundance: …the people who check us out at the food store …the freedom to drop by a friend’s house …sitting in a restaurant to eat …leaving the house with no gloves or masks …taking a trip out of town …going to the movies …worshiping in church together …hugging a friend …health …having school Some people groups deal with limitations like these on a normal day. Inevitably, their gratitude for regular blessings is far deeper than ours. Indulgence and entitlement have dried up the well of thanksgiving. Maybe ongoing gratitude is more life-giving then going out to dinner or walking fearless into a food store. Maybe ongoing gratitude produces more lasting contentment than our vacations and paychecks. Though these are good gifts, they are not a sturdy substitute for joy. In the same way Lent reminds us that something is wrong, COVID-19 is announcing the same thing. These hard experiences do not make us impatient, anxious, self-protective, angry, or undone. They reveal the deeper disease already going on in our hearts. We need to get to the watch tower. Our eyes fixed, not on a vaccine (though we can celebrate and welcome that!), but on a Savior who came to heal the soul-disease of sin. This condition is more destructive than any pandemic. The tentacles of sin reach wider and deeper than the spread of corona. Our selfishness, pride, greed, impatience, love of money, envy, self-promotion, and crushing comparison, leave us in a wake of discontentment and broken, shallow relationships… …something is wrong. I hate this virus. I hate the good things it is taking away. It has spread its ominous shadow over every home, every human, and every storefront. My prayer on this Maundy Thursday before Easter, is that we would start with confession. As a nation we would repent of our bigger problem. That we would allow Jesus to wash our feet and reset our hearts into the direction of his good authority, the only authority motivated by love. That we would suffer with him in the fight against our sin to find life in the power of his resurrection. That we would seek him at the start of the day and find his presence calming us, and his faithfulness bringing hope. COVID-19 is a world-wide Lent…

Get on the watch tower and look to a Savior who can heal our souls and our land.

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