Throughout the Holy Season of Lent, devotional thoughts will be published in The Branch each week for you to hold and prayerfully ponder. It is our hope that they might help bring some holy perspective to the past 12 months of a pandemic, our ever-present human fragility, and the ever-present care of God. Today, our devotion journey begins with an excerpt from one of Dr. Jim Dant’s “Rustlings” articles and a portion of pastoral prayer offered in worship—both during March of 2020 near the beginning of the pandemic’s effect on our church and world.
From Dr. Dant’s March 2020 article, “Given the recent announcements of ‘States of Emergency’ in our nation and state, and given the ethical responsibility we have to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our immediate community, we have decided to cancel services tomorrow and intentionally set a path forward: …all scheduled ‘gatherings’ of the church congregation will be suspended…worship will be provided via Livestream and radio. All pastoral care visits will be made via telephone, email, Skype or other electronic means…offices will be open on a normal schedule. We will continue to pray for our neighbors and world.”
From a pastoral prayer offered during worship on March 22, 2020, “God of holiness and presence, we have been offered an unexpected path through this year’s season of Lent. An invisible threat has disrupted the rhythm of our lives and exposed a mostly uncharted landscape for both the world and your kingdom. Instead of Lenten practices and fasting from indulgences, perhaps it will be social distancing that brings us closer to you this time. Amen.”
Me: God, all I hold dear is gone. The foundations of strength, the support from friends, the safety of all people, your very presence—all are missing. My vision is blurred. My foundations of faith have been replaced by fog and darkness. I am in exile, lost and disoriented. Where are you?
Yahweh: Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)
Me: Be still? Are you kidding me? That’s all I’ve been doing—seeing no friends, avoiding personal contact, celebrating the Holy Days separated from my family. I feel like a leper, kicked out and quarantined, watching as my fellow lepers are dying and suffering. Where are you?
Yahweh: Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear, for I’m your God. (Isaiah 41:10, The Message)
Me: If you are with me, help me. My panic and my fear are difficult to control because I don’t understand.
Yahweh: “You do not yet see things clearly. You are squinting in a fog, peering through the mist, but it will not be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright…. But for right now, until that completeness comes, you have but three things to do. Trust steadily in me, your God; hope unswervingly; and love extravagantly.” (adapted from 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, The Message)
Return the joy of your salvation to me and sustain me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12)
God of comfort and sustenance, as we face another week of social distancing and appropriate measures among a flurry of confusing news and mixed messages, help us to be available but not careless, lest we inadvertently spread the thing we are trying to stop; help us to be vigilant but not rash, lest we act out of fear; help us to be optimistic but not overconfident, lest we undermine the progress that has been made thus far; help us keep our distance but not grow accustomed to isolation, lest we lose the sense of community the church provides in your kingdom. Amen. (from 3/22/2020 pastoral prayer)