I don’t know if it’s just me, but this year’s Lenten season seems especially essential, relatable and inviting of my spirit. Lent themes and emotions seem strongly connected to current events almost everywhere I look. Thoughts arising out of the *COVID-19 outbreak are a good example. Perhaps Lent has gone viral?
Lent calls me to confess my sinfulness, to seek forgiveness and to hope dearly for undeserved rescue from the consequences of my actions and inactions. As I look into likely scenarios arising from the spread of this virus, some of those same reactions are already appearing in my soul: In some as-yet-unseen ways, have I contributed to the conditions that underlie worldwide disease? Have I not fully taken responsibility for environmental disintegration, people who are poor, my self-indulgence or a business-as-usual lifestyle?
Martin Luther considered “terrors of conscience” as part of the cycle of daily conversion. Lent invites those thoughts, too, along with dread about the possible consequences of my sins. In the case of COVID-19, I might fear that the economic effects of this disease will surely spread into my life. Other connected feelings arise: Discomfort that I’m neglecting a hidden ministry opportunity, sadness about our culture-wide apprehension about the future or concern for fragile elders.
Both this epidemic and this liturgical season make me hopeful for salvation, rescue and redemption. Not only for cure—for COVID-19 and for my state of mind—but also for saviors who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of others. In the case of novel coronavirus, they are the selfless medical personnel who are working tirelessly to understand this microorganism and develop a vaccine. In the larger picture that Lent portrays, we learn again about the strong and hopeful reminders of a Savior who has already rescued us from the effects of sinfulness.
Neither Lent nor the current viral epidemic are only about deep, dark emotions, though. Other, more positive observations also come to mind.
I’m glad that I’m not alone in any of this—the entire Church considers together how to accept and proclaim forgiveness and live the Christ-life. Across the world, most leaders are working together, diligently and wisely, to defeat this rampant disease.
I am also encouraged by honest confession and repentance. I see that in officials who admit the truth about the quality of our national response to this epidemic. On a personal level, friends and family help me see my shortcomings and sins. I am heartened how, with those necessary attitudes in place, forgiveness can remain a sturdy source of cleansing and hope.
One hope that might have to wait for awhile yet: That this growing societal terror will help all of us sort out what’s important, who we really are, what we are willing to sacrifice or how we want to spend our remaining years.
Facing Lenten themes or an invisible crown-shaped virus, we can set aside self-idolatry, fear and narrowness-of-heart—and take up our crosses of sacrificial living so that God’s love spreads into the world.
Another viral part of Lent!
*The physical appearance of this virus seems to mock the honor and dignity that we usually associate with headwear that implies victory or majesty. It seems fitting that the etymology underlying this corona virus calls to mind the crown of thorns that was added to Jesus’ suffering those last hours of his life. COVID-19’s perversion of health resembles the mockery of Jesus’ tormentors—who could not see his quiet power.