The mass closures and quarantines we are participating in are making a lot of anxiety, disappointment, and what could become loneliness. A lot of the focus has been on what we cannot do because many activities have been discouraged. Cannot go to school or the library. Trips for work have been postponed or canceled. Recreational shopping is frowned upon. Scheduling important meetings? We are told to use email or webcam. Eating out at a restaurant? Not recommended. Going to the theater or cinema is definitely not what all of these closures are for. Even our normal habits of watching a live sports game or going on vacation have been disrupted.
In the Church, we are looking at this from the angle of fasting. (It is Lent, after all!) And it is true that many congregations are fasting from worshipping and the celebration of Holy Communion. Fasting is the practice of refraining from something that is good for a time. While fasting is a fantastic spiritual discipline, it also has a negative reputation. You see, whenever we think of fasting it is often about what we are deprived of. What we should instead be thinking about is what we “take on” while we fast. Whenever one is fasting from anything, their time is freed up, so what are they using that extra time and energy for?
It feels as if we are walking through a dry desert, looking for water. As if we are flipping through Disney+ or Netflix, but cannot find anything to watch. It is a wide open calendar where we cannot do much of what we would want to do with our free time.
Perhaps the water that Jesus is providing for us is the gift of time to rest and be with him. This is a chance for us to practice the spiritual discipline of Sabbath. All too often in our day in age, we are running from point A to point B without thinking. We have to keep “Go Go Going.” But this habit inevitably leads to burnout. We become overly focused on “the new thing,” that we fritter away our time. But one thing that we humans need is time to “be.” Time to rest. I mean, the average person needs 7-8 hours of sleep each day, but they also need time away from work and busyness.
In the Wilderness, God provided the Israelites water from the rock which is what they needed. Even though the people of Israel were starting to infer that they should return to Egypt and slavery, that is not where they found what they needed for life.
Now, to be clear, God did not unleash this plague upon us (we can put a lot of blame on human greed and pride for this pestilence). But I have said it before and I will write it now: God is REALLY good at making lemonade from lemons. God has this knack for taking a horrible situation and bringing something good to come from it. God has been using the efforts of officials to protect us from the ravages of disease by inviting us into the practice Sabbath, intentional rest.
Sabbath is about spending time with loved ones. Perhaps you and your loved ones live in different households, but we now have a multitude of ways to communicate even when we cannot see each other. We can use this time to talk on the phone, Skype, Facetime, or write letters. We can use this time to work on that stack of books that has been piling up. We can sing songs or play music to spread some joy. Or maybe it is playing board or video games with friends. Watching that series that has been on your watch list for months now. As the days get warmer and longer, do some exercise or gardening.
For those folks who are still working away from home, if everyone is acting as they ought to during this time, it should be an easier time for you as well (because most folks should be at home and not be out). This is a great time to build work friendships. When there are those slow times at work, savor the peace that you find. Dwell with the time and space you find yourself in.
But in the midst of this time of intentional rest, remember that we also get to spend time with our Lord and God. In our Gospel reading for today, we hear Jesus tell the Samaritan woman “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem,” (John 4:21). Instead people will worship in spirit and truth. Too often we tie our activities to certain locales, but what Jesus is saying here is that’s not how our faith works. Instead every moment can be a holy moment. All times can be times spent with God. And this is because it is Jesus who comes to us.
Jesus can spend time with us as we are social distancing because he is already immune to the new coronavirus (being fully God does have its perks). Jesus comes to us and abides with us. He does this because Jesus is Emmanuel. Jesus chooses to spend this time with you because he loves you. This love of his and his decision to spend time with us are both gifts.
It is a sad thing that we don’t get to share Holy Communion or Fellowship together. It is hard not being able to go about life as we normally would like, but this is only a short season. We can find the reasons to celebrate in the time God is giving us.
Post-script: Keep washing your hands diligently with soap and water for 20 seconds (that’s about as long as it takes for you to pray the Lord’s Prayer). Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with dirty hands. Cough and sneeze into your elbow.