by David Hickey ’08 | History Faculty
It is amazing how, in just a couple weeks, one’s world can change so dramatically. Our present isolation seems to have slowed down time as our daily schedules become skeletons of their former fullness. The lengthening of our days has removed us from the reach of normalcy. The last track practice I held or the last lesson I taught in my classroom with my European History students already feels like a distant memory. As I have considered this, I am continually reminded of the season of Lent. Lent is the liturgical church season commemorating the forty days marking Jesus’ fasting and temptation in the wilderness in preparation for his death and later his resurrection on Easter.
The word Lent or Lenten derives from the German langitinaz, meaning “long days” or the lengthening of the days in springtime — a meaning even more apropos for our present time. The season is a solemn one, where Christians are called to fast, pray, and reflect on the death of Jesus. The season also notably includes the Lenten sacrifice, or the denial of luxuries or comforts, as a cause for reminder of Christ’s sacrifice, culminating in Holy Week. At the close of Holy Week comes Easter Sunday.
With Christ’s conquest over sin and death, our mourning turns to singing as life is renewed by the resurrection. As with the blossoms of spring, we also are new creations. Growing up in a “low” church tradition that didn’t follow the liturgical year, I was not acquainted with the observance of Lent or the Lenten sacrifice. We observed Jesus’ death on Good Friday and the celebration of Easter. It wasn’t until I was a Stony Brook student that I learned of Lent and its significance as a fuller season of reflection and call to prayer. This may be a realization for many current Brookers as well.
This year, we are faced with a challenge that no one could have anticipated. This Lenten season we are unexpectedly and involuntarily fasting from more than just material comforts. The means by which we typically fill our lives are emptied. Our jobs and schoolwork, our routines, our relationships and communities are all put on hold or are taken away—seemingly unjustly stolen.
What is left? On what shall we now direct our focus? How then shall we respond? With anger or consternation? Or rather with introspection? As we may mourn the loss of community, of fellowship, of normal life, how much more does the Father yearn for communion with His creation? So much so that He was willing to send His son to die for us, so that we might be forever restored (John 3:16-17).
In this season, our focus is being called back to the source. All is stripped away and what is left is us and God. I know for myself that routine, predictability, planning, and filling my day are comfortable habits which also inhibit me from looking beyond faith in my own capabilities, rather than creating room for dependence on God. I am reminded of Job, who because of his righteousness believed he deserved just treatment or entitlement from God, rather than having to endure periods of suffering. It is times of trouble and uncertainty that test the roots of our faith and our dependence upon God, rather than taking solace in our own skills or the blessings we have been given. This season we are being challenged to grow in our trust and devotion to God. He is sovereign over this virus as He is sovereign over the rest of His creation.
When confronted with the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples cried in desperation, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” After calming the storm, Jesus replied, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:38-40). Later, when foretelling of his death, Jesus also said that he would rise again in three days time (Mark 8:31). The promise of Sunday was coming, but what was the reaction of the disciples after his death? They were in hiding, despairing — yet again.
To us we might think, “Oh they of little faith! How could they be so simple and myopic when they followed his ministry and miracles for three years? How could they not trust?” Are we like the disciples huddled and despairing? To what should we direct our eyes? “I lift my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2).
Christians are not immune from grief or mourning. Jesus, who himself experienced grief for Lazarus and despair on the cross, promises us suffering and even scorn in our sacrifice to follow him, yet He also gives us the great hope of eternal life and that He will be with us always to the very end of the age (Mark 28:19). We have the hope of salvation; we have Christ in us and we have been set free by his resurrection to be beacons in the ministry of reconciliation between God and His creation. Our hope in this present time is a witness to the truth of our deeply rooted faith. This trial is momentary, but there is light ahead.
Sunday is coming, and when it arrives, there will be rejoicing!