Oh, how fitting is the first reading on this 1st Sunday of Lent! The past few years of living with COVID have been oppressive to all of us (to some so much more than to others). And now, just as Lent begins in Ontario, where I live, restrictions are being lifted. This Sunday, for the first time in two years, we will attend church without capacity limits and most of the other restrictions that have become the norm for us. Those of us who have been volunteering to screen and guide people to seats have been freed of our responsibilities. It feels like the Lord has finally brought us to the land flowing with milk and honey for which we have been longing.
So, how shall we respond? Moses answers the question. We are to come before the altar of God. There we tell the story of our affliction. There we tell the story of how God liberated us from our suffering. And there, in gratitude, we set down an offering of sacrifice before the God who heard our cries.
We breathe a collective sigh of relief as we offer our gratitude to God. We may still be wearing masks, but we can stand closer to one another now. This is good because St. Paul reminds us that we come before the altar of God without distinctions – for everyone – who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
This new, blessed reality provides us with an opportunity to enter Lent a little differently this year. As we listen to the Gospel of Christ being tempted in the desert, perhaps we bring a different set of insights to the story than we did pre-pandemic. I cannot be the only one who experienced myself and others facing old temptations in new ways. I learned more about the temptations to place one’s own desires for bread before the common good of bread for all. Images of hoarded toilet paper come to mind. I learned more about the temptations to power as I watched some unscrupulously benefit from the suffering of others and engage in opportunism while hidden behind the COVID mask. I learned more about the temptation of putting the Lord to the test as we toyed with the idea that God would protect us without us using our God given gifts to protect ourselves and our neighbour.
As we leave the height of the pandemic behind us (please God, let this be true!), we enter the land of milk and honey, scarred from walking in the desert for so long. New temptations will confront us. We need only to look at the evening news. As some of us experience liberation, others remain oppressed. So, let us offer our gifts in gratitude that we begin this Lent already experiencing God’s gracious, liberating love and pray and work for that liberation to be experienced in the lives of all people.
Christine Way Skinner is a lay minister and author. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Theology degree from St. Francis Xavier University and a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. She is currently working on a Doctorate in Theology at St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Christine loves trying to find inclusive, compelling and creative ways to pass on the church’s 2000 year old traditions. She enjoys exploring the arts, gardening and engaging conversations. Christine’s numerous publications can be found and purchased here.