A reading from Ephesians: Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true... Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
It is intensely painful not to be able to gather for Mass in this space on Sundays. Now there are ways we can pray together on Zoom and Facebook and YouTube, and the Sunday Spiritual Communion devotions being sent out on the parish email list, and the phone calls a team of people are placing to check in with everyone. We need to stay connected, so these are all good. According to C-U Public Health, they’re even an essential service. But it is still intensely painful not to be able to gather for Mass in this space on Sundays.
Paul writes to the Ephesians today, Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light. This sacrifice of not meeting is painful, but I know that all of us understand that helping reduce the spread of COVID 19 is, for us right now, part of living as children of light, part of loving our neighbors.
And so we are discovering solitude. It has a long history. There have always been people in the Christian tradition whom God called to stay apart, to spend time in the desert. Jesus did it for 40 days and 40 nights, fasting in the wild, which is where we get this season of Lent. The early desert fathers and mothers did it, and hermits still do it today.
But now all of a sudden, you and I have been called to the same thing whether we like it or not. By virtue of Scripture’s instruction for us to obey the civil authorities, now we are solitary. We are hermits. We are fasting in the wild – from sports and restaurants and concerts and from being together at the daily office and Mass.
The fast that we are called into now is a spiritual challenge. So many of the things we took for granted are gone. If that’s hard for you, you are not alone. Solitude is hard, uncertainty is hard, powerlessness is hard. But all the Lents we chose to observe before were meant to help each of us, year by year by year, slowly be transformed into people who have a firm spiritual anchor, even if hard things come our way.
So maybe you are experiencing now that it worked – that you’re spiritually stronger than you expected in the midst of this, because of all those previous choices, or maybe you’re discovering that you kind of took for granted that you yourself wouldn’t ever really urgently need to be spiritually strong. But now it’s urgent for each of us.
So, once you were darkness, says St. Paul, but now in the Lord you are light... Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” However you are spending your days right now, giving at least some part of them to letting Christ shine on you and fortify you with his strength is very, very important.
If you want to endure – and it sounds like we all may need to – even if you’ve never done it before, set aside time every day, beginning now, to let Christ shine on you. If you want to have the inner resources not to be conquered by fear and isolation, set aside time every day to let Christ shine on you. If you want to know in the depths of your soul that whatever happens you are anchored in the love of God, set aside time every day to let Christ shine on you. (You have time, now!)
Let Christ shine on you, at a bare minimum – this is like, the emergency first responders level – by starting and ending every day with prayer. Don’t pick up the phone or turn on the TV in the morning until you have made contact with God, reoriented yourself to him, and drunk in his love and strength. I’ve taught a lot at Emmanuel about ways you can do that at home, and we’ve been putting resources and reminders online and sending them in email, but it can be as simple as saying the Lord’s Prayer first thing every morning.
And at night, as you lie down to go to sleep, I really do recommend the church’s bedtime prayer, Compline from the Book of Common Prayer, page 127. Compline is about letting go – of the day, yes, but also of the illusion that we were ever in control. In Compline we surrender ourselves and our world back to God, every night.
If everything is still there in the morning, just the way we were used to, that’s nice. But we can’t take for granted that it will be. It’s not, right now, and things could get worse. We are powerless over nearly everything – which is actually true all the time, but we’ve been forced into seeing it by this crisis.
Yet amidst all this darkness there is light in the Lord. We cannot all meet at church. But while staying at home, while fasting in the wild, we can each learn to draw on everything that is ours – on the treasure trove of the Scriptures and the Prayer Book, and on the presence and power of Jesus. And as we do that, our connection to the invisible Body of Christ, the one holy catholic and apostolic Church against which the gates of hell cannot prevail, will become a daily reality, an unshakable anchor in our households and our lives.