Is it I, Lord?
I participated in a dramatic reading many years ago in our church of the Last Supper. Jesus’ 12 apostles were seated in the Upper Room, and Jesus had just announced that one of the 12 was going to betray him.
In turn, they all asked Jesus: Is it I, Lord?
I was assigned the role of James the son of Alphaeus, sometimes called James the Lesser. Hardly anything is known about him, so the paragraph I had to memorize was short.
Yes, it is I
The fact that the announcement troubled most – all but one – of the apostles proved that it was not them. But they asked the question anyway, sincerely.
They gave their lives for him. They gave up their careers for him – some of them permanently. (Once Matthew walked away from his tax collector job, there was no going back.) They listened, feared, walked on water, found food to feed 5,000 people, asked questions and learned.
After three years, it came down to this:
Is it I, Lord?
Jesus gave them the answer right away. No, it’s not you. It’s Judas.
A few hours later, they all fled during Jesus’ biggest hour of need.
Yes, it is I.
A time of reflection
As Christians, we are in the period known as Lent, which takes place for about six weeks before Easter.
Lent is a time of reflection. Christians often give up material things as a sign of penance in preparation for Maundy Thursday, when Christians remember the Upper Room scene. Some fast. Some give up meat. Some forego sweets. Or other things.
This year, everyone around the world, Christian or not, is being forced to give up a lot more than a Friday night steak. I don’t think it’s coincidence that COVID-19 struck during Lent.
What truly matters in life? We are doing without sports and entertainment. As with Lent, these sacrifices will be temporary. It’s not the new normal. We don’t know the end date, but there will be one.
Perhaps we will see a new normal. When sports and entertainment return, will we get caught up in them the way we did for so long? Or will they be as they are intended, an escape from “real life,” a chance to relax and unwind?
The Last Supper was not truly so for the apostles, of course. It was for Jesus. The apostles would continue the tradition later as communion, which Christians still celebrate today.
We remember what happened on that night.
The night that changed everything.
The night when Jesus transformed the Passover seder into communion, with his body and blood symbolized by the bread and wine.
We’re upset that our jobs are suspended, temporarily. And that does hurt (even with unemployment benefits). Our favorite concert halls, movie theaters, sports arenas and stadiums are dark and empty, temporarily.
Jesus gave his life. His Father gave it back to him on Easter Sunday, giving us the hope of forgiveness of sins at the same time. That’s why Christians view Easter as the most holy – and happy – day of the entire year.
But first, Lent came. Loss. Suffering. Anguish. Fear. Sleepiness. Anxiety.
Lent and COVID-19 serve the same purpose
Today, all of us, worldwide, get to share in that. Whether we want to or not.
We decide for ourselves how to respond to COVID-19. There are public responses which we are asked to support – stay-in-place, go to the store only when necessary. The virus spreads very rapidly. People are dying from it. The curve has not flattened yet, at least not in the United States.
The worst likely is yet to come.
Will we submit to our leaders?
That’s what Lent is all about. Submitting to a higher authority, the living God.
Today, all of us get to do that.
This life is not about us. Some of us are having a difficult time grasping, or accepting, this.
But it’s true. The world existed before any of us was born, and it will continue after all of us depart this Earth.
Is it I, Lord?
Yes, Lord, it is I.
Lent is a time of reflection, of self-sacrifice. To what end? To understand Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
COVID-19 sacrifices are temporary, except for those who die. That’s why we must sacrifice – so we can keep those deaths to a minimum.
It’s not about me. It’s not about you.
This is the message of Lent, and this is the message of COVID-19.
Sacrifice – and hope
What are we doing with the extra time we have, thanks to social distancing? Are we giving thanks for what we still have? Or do we complain about what we’ve lost?
What have we lost? Nearly all of you reading this blog don’t have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, even with stay-in-place orders. We aren’t facing life-changing consequences, unless we get the virus.
When the social restrictions are lifted, and they will be eventually, we will return to some semblance of normalcy.
Will we be changed? Will we be more grateful for the blessings we’ve had all along? Will we appreciate more the things we’ve had to give up during our enforced Lenten season?
Time will tell.
Until that day, we will live in Lent. A period of sacrifice, waiting, suffering – and hope.
Easter is coming. Whether the pandemic ends on April 12, Easter Sunday, or not – I rather doubt it – Easter will come.
That’s a promise. Let’s get ready.