The Lenten Fast that Nobody Wanted

The Reverend Amanda C. Stephenson,
Associate Rector

We suddenly find ourselves in a very unstable and confusing place as a country and as a world. What we are going through in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetimes. Things are changing daily, sometimes even hourly, as countries around the world scramble to take drastic measures in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. We are encouraged to practice “social distancing,” minimizing our contact with others. At St. Peter’s, this means that we live streamed our Sunday service through “Facebook Live.” We are currently working to find creative ways to allow our formation and meetings to continue through audio and video conferencing. We are all working to adapt and find a “new normal” during this strange shift in our culture.

As I’ve been thinking about the ways that our lives have all changed over the last two weeks, I’ve been reflecting specifically on what it means that we are living through this particular time during Lent. I’ve begun to think of this period of “social distancing” as a Lenten fast. It is not one that I ever would have chosen, but it is one that we all must participate in.

To be clear, I am in full agreement with our bishops’ decision to close the churches in our diocese. I do believe that it is the best way to protect us all during this difficult time and I am grateful for their pastoral direction. But agreeing with a decision, and knowing it is the right thing, doesn’t mean that I have to like it – I miss you all already!

Nevertheless, here we are. During this Lenten season, we find ourselves participating in a social fast. There are many reasons that people engage in more traditional fasts during Lent, but ultimately they should all bring us closer to Christ. They help us identify with his sacrifice, identify with the hungry of the world, and lead us into deeper prayer. How can we theologically reflect on this social fast during Lent? I don’t have a clear answer to this question but I do have some reflections. My guess is that my reflections will continue to change as we move further and further into this fast. But here is where I am right now.

We are called to be in community, and because of this, having to distance ourselves from our community is painful. From the earliest disciples, followers of Jesus have worshiped in community. Ours is not a religion to be practiced alone; it must be lived out with one another. However, that community does not need to exist within a specific set of walls, or involve physical bodies sitting next to each other. Physically being together is wonderful and extremely important, but right now, at a time when coming together is dangerous for the most vulnerable among us, we do not cease to be community. We still love one another, care for one another, and pray for one another. We are being stretched outside our comfort zones as we find ways to continue to worship, meet, and learn together without physically being present with one another. And we are taking these measures for the good of the whole community. Young or old, sick or healthy, we are all in this together. We all must do our part to protect one another during this outbreak. Working together for the greater good is part of what community is all about. It is part of what the Christian Church is all about.

The disciples also had their worlds turned upside down in the weeks leading up to Holy Week. From the moment that Jesus called his disciples out of their ordinary lives to follow him, to their gathering together in fear after his crucifixion, to witnessing the Resurrected Christ, the disciples experienced a dramatic upheaval of all that they knew to be true and normal. I find comfort in thinking of the disciples’ turbulence, especially in the final weeks of Jesus’s life. Everything was changing so fast that they couldn’t keep up. Chaos and grief and fear were prevalent, especially at the end. BUT we know that the story doesn’t end with the agony of Holy Week or even with the crucifixion. The story doesn’t end in a place of fear and chaos; it ends with the glory of the resurrection!

As we live through this strange Lenten social fast that nobody wanted, I hope that we can spend some time with the disciples as they too struggle to adapt to a new normal. I hope that we can trust that “this too shall pass” and on the other side will be resurrection. It may not be on our desired timeline, but it will be. Please know that you all are in my prayers; please keep the clergy and staff of St. Peter’s in yours.