Piety, Penance, Prayer and the Pandemic: A Coming Lenten Season Like No Other
- After the Coming Lenten Season, will we be the same person we were when the pandemic began or a different person preparing to minister in a post-pandemic world
- May we heed the Lenten call to imitate Christ’s Spirit-led withdrawal into a place of solitude throughout the season and imagine ourselves prayerfully rising on Easter Sunday a renewed person preparing and planning to minister in a post-pandemic world
Since the earliest days of the Church, Lent has been associated with the 40 days when Christ withdrew into the wilderness before the beginning of his public ministry. The Christian Church has encouraged Christians to imitate Jesus’ withdrawal into a place for solitude throughout Lent as a means of observing the season and preparing for public ministry.
Our Lenten Season begins this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, which serves as a solemn reminder of human mortality. A minister distributing ashes by lightly rubbing the shape of a cross with ashes onto foreheads, and uttering the words from Genesis 3.19 You are from dust and to dust you shall return, is a well-known Ash Wednesday tradition.
The phrase to dust you shall return is heartbreaking to hear during a pandemic because more than 2 million people have died of the COVID-19 disease world-wide so far. Tens of millions of others fell ill before recovering, making this coming Lenten season like no other.
If we heed the call to imitate Jesus’ withdrawal into a place of solitude, we can venture into a physical or inner place for solitude throughout Lent. We will likely encounter again the same threatening invisible COVID-19 force that has pierced our soul repeatedly by bringing illness and death to too many family members, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and strangers who make up our everyday life.
Thus, heeding the call to withdraw into a place of solitude, will position ourselves to confront the threatening invisible COVID-19 force as we further prepare for public ministry while adhering to the Lenten traditions of being pious, penitent, and prayerful.
When we practice piety, we express our belonging to God, a deep bonding relationship that we live out by adhering to the scriptures. Piety is reflected in our affectionate obedience and yearning to conform to the scriptures as the word of God.
When the tempter tempted Jesus three times in the wilderness, his three responses, as noted in Matthew chapter 4, were prefaced by It is written, It is also written, and For it is written in reference to the scriptures.
While pierced by the pain precipitated by the invisible force of the pandemic during physical and inner experiences of solitude throughout Lent, we should be mindful that the following is written
- Be wise in the way you act towards others; make the most of every occasion (Colossians 4.5);
- Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6.2);
- For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2.10); and
- Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is within your power to act (Proverbs 3.27).
A life of piety is renewed by penitence. Penitence is reflected in a feeling of deep internal sorrow and regrets for one’s hurtful words and actions. While feeling pierced during our Lenten times of physical and inner solitude, we may sense some degree of shame and sorrow because we did not make the most out of every occasion to act wisely when it was in our power to act while encountering the pain precipitated by the pandemic.
Penitence also refers to deeply motivated external words and actions out of love for God and our neighbor. Jesus’ words—It is written, it is also written, and for it is written—should deeply motivate us during our physical and inner experiences of solitude throughout Lent to utter external words in our prayer that will lead to actions of healing and transformation. We look for transformation that emanates out of the love of God and out of love of our neighbors pained by the pandemic because God prepared us in advance to do so when it is in our power to act.
There may never have been a situation during our lifetime that calls for more prayer than a year-long pandemic that is now extending into another year. We know that the prayer of a (pious and penitent) person is powerful and effective (James 5.16) when still before the Lord and waiting patiently for God to act (Psalm 37.7).
The scriptures encourage prayer and silence. Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46.10) is a powerful verse when we understand these words as being personally spoken to us by God. Listen to me in silence (Isa 41.1) is another such verse as well as Be still before the Lord (Psalm 37.7).
We can respond by praying, For God alone my (pierced) soul waits (Psalm 62.1) and I wait for the Lord, my (pierced) soul waits (Psalm 130.5), as we are indeed pierced by the pain precipitated by the invisible force of the pandemic.
At the same time, we can prayerfully and piously conform to the scriptures and be penitent out of love for God and our neighbor, while alone in our physical or inner Lenten place of solitude throughout Lent preparing to further our public ministry. We can allow the word of God to be living and active, to pierce our spirit, and to discern the thoughts and intentions of our soul. For it is written that
- the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It discerns the thoughts and intentions of the soul (Hebrews 4.12);
We can also allow the word of God to help us see where to go and to hear what to do. For it is also written that
- the word (of God) is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path (Psalm 119.105); and
- Whoever belongs to God hears what God says (John 8.47).
This coming Lenten season is like no other because of the pandemic. Observing the call to imitate Jesus’ by retreating into a physical or inner place of solitude throughout Lent will also be like no other because while working at being pious, penitent, and prayerful, we will not escape the pain precipitated by the force of the pandemic. We will be mindful because the pandemic force disproportionately kills elderly persons and sickens persons of all ages.
The physical and emotional pain experienced by millions of persons was likely unimaginable until we actually witnessed it in person and/or through the media during the past year. We heard, and still hear, the cries of those inflicted by COVID-19.
The pandemic’s effects on our collective emotional, educational, and economic well-being is increasingly disturbing. Too many of us are isolated from family and friends, jobless or underemployed, closing down a decades owned business, and about to lose our home or faced with eviction from a rented apartment. Grieving a loved one that we did not get to hug one last time is another painful experience precipitated by the pandemic felt by too many of us.
A Lenten Season Like No Other
This coming Lenten season is like no other because no one is exempt from the pain precipitated by the pandemic. There is so much grief, sorrow, and anguish among our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, and strangers, who are forced to deal with the aftermath of an invisible destructive force that permeates their daily life and our own.
After the Coming Lenten Season will we be the same person we were when the pandemic began or a different person preparing to minister in a post-pandemic world
A Lenten inner desert experience to further prepare for a public ministry focused on healing and transformation in the midst of a pandemic is unprecedented. We can confront the pain of the pandemic as Christ confronted the tempter by declaring and living out the scriptures.
It is time for us to declare and live out the scriptures to help us envision a post-pandemic era of healing and transformation as God would have it, for it is written
- I am the Lord and Behold, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it (Isaiah 43.19)?;
- From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you (Isaiah 48.6);
- Behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among the people wonder upon wonder (Isaiah 29.14); and
- I am about to do something in (the world) that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle (1 Samuel 3.11).
Will we be the same person we were when the pandemic began or a different person prepared for a post-pandemic world after the coming Lenten season. Our Lenten experience of solitude can help prepare us for the new things that are coming, the hidden things that are now unknown to us, and the marvelous work that will make our ears tingle for a post-pandemic world.
During the days that follow Ash Wednesday till Easter Sunday, searching the scriptures daily for the many references to healing will clearly make it evident that healing is at the core of God’s being as it should be for us. I will bring health and healing; I will heal my people . . . (Jeremiah 33.6) and so should we, for we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2.10).
The last three days of the coming Lenten season—Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday—provide unique opportunities to prepare us for a post-pandemic world. On Holy Thursday, we can contemplate the commandment given by Christ during the Last Supper, As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. On Good Friday, we can contemplate the seven last words of Christ spoken from the Cross. On the very last day of the coming Lenten season, Holy Saturday, we can find an appropriate place and “wait at the Lord’s tomb,” as did several of the first Christians and contemplate the life and teachings of Christ about healing and transformation.
May we prayerfully rise on Easter Sunday a renewed person preparing and planning to minister in a post-pandemic world
May we prayerfully rise on Easter Sunday a renewed person and further our public ministry unlike ever before by helping to bring healing and transformation to our neighborhoods, cities, counties, states, and country pained by the pandemic.
May we help fulfill the teachings of the scriptures concerning healing and transformation in a post-pandemic world. Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit after spending 40 days in the desert, went to Nazareth, and declared, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . . to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4. 14-19).
May we declare the same on Easter Sunday, after imitating Jesus’ withdrawal into a place of solitude by retreating into a physical or inner place of solitude throughout the coming Lenten season and perhaps by
- Contemplating the commandment given by Christ during the Last Supper on Holy Thursday–As I have loved you, so you also must love one another;
- Meditating on the seven last words of Christ spoken from the Cross on Good Friday; and
- Reflecting on the life and teachings of Christ about healing and transformation while “waiting at the Lord’s tomb” on Holy Saturday.
For it is written,
I am the Lord and “Behold, I am about to do something new;
even now it is coming. Do you not see it (Isaiah 43.19)?;
I am about to do something in (the world) that will make
the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle (1 Samuel 3.11).