I was driving south on Highway 169 into Winterset on my very first Sunday at Saint Paul Lutheran. It was predawn darkness as I came over the crest of the slope leading to the four-way stop at State Highway 92. (You know the one. There are not a ton of four-way stop intersections in Winterset.) I found myself momentarily confused by the red flashing light ahead. The light had the appearance of being much further away than it actually was. In fact, I momentarily thought that there was an emergency vehicle up ahead on the road.
Not until I got much closer did I realize that the red light, in fact, hung over the intersection itself, rather than some distant place.
Even during the daytime, this light seems to do a number on my depth perception capacity for some reason, creating an uncertain assessment as to the real distance to the stop sign. I have resorted to trying to just look for the stop sign itself as I get closer, in order to accurately gauge how far to the intersection.
I suppose I could have figured out a metaphor for these pandemic times that would be far more concise. But honestly, even now, nearly every time I drive into town I still need to do this little “re-calibration” exercise in my brain. (Am I the only one?)
And so also, it is in fact every day over these last weeks that I find myself wondering at this juncture-how far exactly until we get to the stopping point of this fateful journey? Our weariness, fear, concern and disrupted daily lives are driving us to seek out a finish line for the madness. But the exponential growth-curve of the virus taking hold of people’s bodies, limited medical supplies, and mandated isolation inducing loneliness and mental health crises, all hang out there someplace off in the distance, bringing confusion and concern. The very sudden interruption of income to already cash-strapped individuals and families, the pain and anticipatory fear of those in prison, nursing care settings and the military, along with that of their family members, weigh so heavily. No one has a crystal ball as to how these scenarios will turn out. We are mindful of those who are “essential” in their work of public safety and health care as they risk their own safety and that of their families. So many suffer with the burden of “what if” every day. And in and through all of this painful stuff…we wonder, how much further will this go on? What is the true distance to the stopping point of the madness?
I do not recall a time in my life with such a prolonged experience of waking up in the morning with the revelation that this current circumstance is not simply a bad dream. It is real, and global, and close to home.
How long it will be before we can hug and hold our grandchildren again? How long before we can feel safe coming back to our church to greet one another and enjoy the fellowship of others who share our faith? The questions go on and on….
Yes, I am dragging this on. Yes, I normally have made my point by now, and turn to the good news and encouragement. Am I taking this approach because this Coronavirus is seriously bad stuff? Yes, of course. But even more than that, it is because we are about to enter Holy Week. This is the Friday that comes before that Friday which we call “Good.”
I don’t know about you, but I wonder if I will ever have such opportunity to consider the passion of our Lord Jesus from the mindset with which I am approaching this coming week. If there is ever a seemingly hopeless time during my lifetime as relates to the well-being of us human folk, this would be it. If ever there was a time (again, during my lifetime!) when there would be cause for some level of discouragement, and concern for our families and community, and our own personal future, it seems that now is a fair time to have those concerns.
Perhaps there have been some Easter Sundays when you have walked in to church to smell the lilies and hear the majestic sound of the trumpets and the preacher declaring “HE IS RISEN” without having been to the upper room to revisit where Jesus shares final words with his disciples prior to being arrested. The idea of coming to Easter worship with bright beautiful clothing and chipper smiles and spring-time attitudes, without having actually visited the foot of the Good Friday cross and truly considered Jesus’ final breath, is so tempting. I sometimes would be inclined myself to avoid the painful and dark agony of that Good Friday ritual, except that I am the Pastor and typically have to show up.
I think that this year is going to be very different. I believe that this will be a time when the extravagance of God’s love and grace, His forgiveness and strength, and the power of His resurrection will mean so much more than a church ritual.
Think about the disciples and the women on that Friday. They stood from afar (the men, interestingly) and at the foot of the cross (the women, not surprisingly!) on that day before the longest three days in the history of the world. Not knowing how long it would be until they would receive any good news of hope or life-giving salvation. These are hard days. “How long Lord, will it last?” As we begin this, perhaps the strangest Holy Week that we will ever have experienced, let’s say with the Psalmist’s lament: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” And then soon enough, though we don’t know when for certain, “But I trusted in your steadfast love: My heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me!” Psalm 13
May the Peace of the Lord, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds on Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN and AMEN.
Pastor Brian Mortenson
Church office phone: 515-462-4270
Church office email: StPaulLutheranChurch@hotmail.com
Pastor Brian Mortenson email: StPaulPastor1941@gmail.com
Pastoral Emergencies: 605-351-0867