It was The Third Sunday in Lent. We had planned to celebrate the Holy Eucharist beginning with the penitential order. It ended up being a different kind of Sunday; not your usual Third Sunday in Lent.
- We omitted the penitential order and began the liturgy with a prayer concerning COVID-19.
- There was no water in the baptismal font. Instead, the font was filled with small sealed plastic cups of holy water.
- We kept our distance from each other.
- We exchanged the peace with gestures of affection instead of a kiss, hug, or handshake.
- We did not pass the offering plates. They stayed on tables at the front and back of the church.
- We shared communion differently. Bread was carefully laid on open hands, no touching allowed. And there was no dipping your own bread in the wine. Instead, I took the bread from the paten, dipped it in a separate chalice for intinction, and dropped it onto open hands.
It wasn’t just The Third Sunday in Lent. It was a different kind of Sunday. It was The First Sunday of COVID-19.
A new liturgical season had begun. And each of us entered a new season of life. The Old Testament reading for that day (Exodus 17:1-7) was about a wilderness journey. That was appropriate. We had just entered the wilderness of COVID-19.
Like the Israelites we are journeying “by stages,” figuring it out as we go – one day at time, and sometimes one step at a time. Long journeys, especially when you’re not exactly sure of the way or how long it will take, can make you impatient, grumpy, and fearful.
It’s not surprising that the Israelites grumbled and complained. I can imagine them asking if they are almost there, or complaining that they’re tired or bored. “How much longer will it be?” “When will we get there?” “We’re thirsty! We want something to drink.”
I remember that Spring Break ski trip Cyndy and I took the boys on. We planned to drive straight through from Corpus Christi to Breckenridge. It started out fun – music, snacks, and laughter. But then the grumbling and complaining began. “How much longer until we get there?” “We’ve been driving forever. Are we almost there?” “He’s on my side. Tell him to move over.”
“Dad. I’m thirsty,” Randy, my younger son, said. “Why can’t we stop? I’m really thirsty.” “There’s a store. Stop.” I had been listening to that for 5000 miles (and yes, I know it’s only 1100 miles from Corpus to Breckenridge). “Dad, I need something to drink,” he said. That’s when I turned and said, “Well swallow some spit and be quiet!”
That was not my finest moment as a parent. But I’m pretty sure that even Moses – in more modern times – would have turned and at least said, “Don’t make me stop this car.”
Wilderness journeys can be difficult and challenging for everyone. We get thirsty for the usual and familiar routine, thirsty for answers and clarity, thirsty for a destination, thirsty for an end to the unknown, the risk, the fear.
I suspect we’ll get thirsty in the wilderness of COVID-19. Be gentle and patient with yourselves and others, wash your hands, and swallow some spit. The Israelites got to the promised land. Cyndy, the boys, and I got to Colorado. And we’ll get through the wilderness of COVID-19.
One of the things I noticed on The First Sunday of COVID-19 is that, even with all the changes we made to the liturgy, I didn’t miss what we omitted or the way we used to do it. I missed people who weren’t there. And I found myself being more intentional about what we were doing and more attentive to who was there.
It wasn’t liturgy as usual. I was present in a different way. The changes allowed for and even demanded a different type of presence.
What if we let the current inconvenience and disruption focus our attention on who and what really matters? What if we let it make us more intentional about what we choose to do or not do? That sounds a lot like a holy Lent, the kind by which lives are changed, and resurrection is experienced. I pray you a blessed and holy Lent.