Encounters with Jesus: The March of Irony
On the first day of March we gathered in a sanctuary that is becoming more beautiful by the day. Our reading from Matthew that morning told of Jesus in the desert, foregoing enticements and entitlements in favor of reliance on God’s provision. We lifted up the metaphor of wilderness as our figurative way of understanding the journey through Lent, sharing Holy Communion as bread for that journey. “The first Sunday in Lent is a great feast,” I quoted Thomas Merton as saying, “and it is in the Christ-sanctified wilderness that I discovered it.”
Little did we know that by month’s end the world would be enveloped in a pandemic, we would be unable to occupy our newly rehabilitated church building, and wilderness would have ceased to be a metaphor. Lent has become this year not merely a concept we borrow as an invitation to choose prayerful paths to God by way of Good Friday and Easter. Lent has become our existential reality.
Most in the Southwest are, for now, spared the blunt force of a virus that has proven so threatening and tragic in other parts of the country and world. Even so, we are near enough to the human face of suffering, even in distant places, and near enough to those whose jobs and vocations lead them into harm’s way, risking health to serve their community, to be moved by the peril and toll of COVID-19.
Our beautiful sanctuary has become for us a stunning visual emblem of a once and future occupancy, grandly and quietly holding the space for our returning. Meanwhile our congregation, displaced for what may be a brief or protracted season, has risen to the occasion. We are worshiping and praying, giving and serving, loving and tending, reaching out to one another, looking out for one another, sharing best practices, practicing social distancing, offering skills and resources, hitting the streets and rediscovering our neighbors. In other words, we are being the church. In this difficult and precarious moment I am honored to serve as your pastor, in an even deeper way now than ever before. And I am awed by the ways faithfulness over years is sustaining us through these tenuous days.
Bonhoeffer once said that first love sustains marriage; then, over time, it is marriage that sustains love. Years and years of practicing the rhythms of life together in the praise of God and love of neighbor have readied us, steadied us, for such a time as this. Your love first sustained the church; now the church is sustaining your love for one another, the neighbor, the world.
How ironic is the march that has taken us seemly overnight from the metaphor to the real, from imagining a Lenten wilderness journey to experiencing such a journey first-hand. In the midst of this very real wilderness—perhaps especially so—God is with us, and God’s provision assured. If Lent has been real for us, then so, too, must be the hope and promise of Easter.
Grace and peace.
Rev. Paul L. Escamilla