There is a meme that has been circulating that reads, “This Lent is the Lent-iest Lent I’ve ever Lented.” Of course, the grammar is intentionally ridiculous, but the meme had the effect of making me want to laugh and cry all at the same time. Lent is usually when we craft a time of sacrifice and abstinence – a time of purposeful withdrawal from comfort to help us ascetically come closer to God. But this Lent, we have not needed to craft anything. Comfort has been ripped away from us, our footing has been upended, and a sense of being bereft has swept over us as our governments have attempted to force us to respect the dignity of every human being through stay at home orders with punitive consequences. In other words, that daily devotional I started reading in the first week of Lent is buried under a pile of crisis management paperwork.
Because this has been a “Lent-y” Lent, the emotional rollercoaster of Palm Sunday is much more relatable than in most years. We started out our service singing loud hosanas, feeling the high of the promise of the arrival of a savior-king, and we end with a reading where disciples have deserted and betrayed, the faithful have condemned out of fear and resentment, the leadership have mocked and brutalized, the Chosen One of Israel lies dead in a tomb while the remaining faithful women linger at a distance, fearfully mourning Christ’s death. In this “Lent-iest Lent we’ve ever Lented,” we are no stranger to the feeling of going from confident security and relative prosperity, to sober, fearful waiting and looking at the tomb that is sealed with finality. As death and the threat of infection hang around us, we do not need to contrive a sense of deep mournfulness and communal culpability. We do not need to imagine the feeling of Christ’s death. From singing hosanas to shouting “Let him be crucified,” we are living the narrative of Palm Sunday today.
Though I would never wish our current reality on us, and though I wish we were having a more man-made experience of Lent, I must confess the confluence of this time with this virus feels appropriate. We do not have to imagine the grief of sitting by the cross mourning the reality of death – we are already sitting by the cross mourning. We do not have to imagine being forced from the crowd to take up a stranger’s cross in a violent, turbulent moment – we are already in a turbulent moment in the company of strangers. We do not have to imagine what feels like the extinguishing of hope and victory – we are already in the midst of clouded hope and unseen victory.
I suppose that is where I find hope today. We do not need to imagine today. We are the disciples, afraid and unworthy. We are the mourning women, anxious and bereft. We are the religious leaders, angry and discouraged. None of that may sound hopeful. But I see hope all around. I see hope in governor’s wives who can see and speak to truth, warning us and helping us see. I see hope in disciples who can see their own unfaithfulness and mourn with honesty. I see hope in Jews who risk reputation and sacrifice personal wealth to properly bury the Christ. I see hope in a Messiah who wanted to escape certain and necessary death, but dies with dignity and faithfulness to save us. Though today is a sober day, today is also a day of promise. The hosannas we say are not in vain. The songs we sing are not in vain. The prayers we pray are not in vain. I have hope that we will come through this unique Lent a changed people – a people more humble about our frailty, a people more sober about the importance of community, a people more astounded by the blessing of a savior. Even in our physical separation, we walk this holiest of weeks together, we mourn and comfort together, and we hold out hope together. Today, we walk in the light of the Lord. Amen.