Our Lenten Journey Is Detoured, Not Delayed
It occurred sometime between Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday.
As in previous years, I received the imposition of ashes on my forehead while being called to repent and believe in the Gospel (the Good News). Also, I was reminded, “You are dust, and to dust you will return.”
I need this reminder. Not only on Ash Wednesday but every day.
It’s easy for me to ignore my sinful ways. I need to remember my mortality. Like it or not, I have an appointment with death.
That sounds uncomfortable, doesn’t it?
We don’t like to think of death or speak of it. Somehow, that conversation reminds us we’re not as in control of life as we believe we are. Perhaps that’s why I need these 40-days of Lent, annually.
Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten Journey. It concludes during Holy Week (Maundy Thursday, or Holy Saturday, depending on your Christian tradition).
This year, our usual journey experienced a detour. We didn’t plan for the diversion, and we didn’t want it. But pandemics have a way of disrupting our regular travel plans.
But even the COVID does not delay our arrival. We will arrive on time. Although this year’s deviation requires us to search for new ways, these new paths still lead us to the cross.
Our current quarantine may limit the ways we can physically connect with others. It also affords us opportunities to connect deeply with Jesus as we walk with him to the cross.
We’re nearing the completion of our 40-days Lenten experience. It would be easy to give up. Our time of quarantine may tempt us to opt-out of our Lenten journey.
But I pray we will discover the opportunities this “detour” provides to deepen and enrich our focus on Jesus.
The word “quarantine” comes from the Italian quaranta, meaning “forty.”
Frank M. Snowden explains in Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present (Yale): 
"[T]he practice of quarantine originated long before people understood what, exactly, they were trying to contain, and the period of forty days was chosen not for medical reasons but for scriptural ones, 'as both the Old and New Testaments make multiple references to the number forty in the context of purification: the forty days and forty nights of the flood in Genesis, the forty years of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness . . . and the forty days of Lent.'" [Emphasis mine].
To experience Lent solely as a religious observation is insufficient. Without our sincere desire to repent, return, rend our hearts, and reflect on Christ’s suffering, we fail to experience the purpose of the Lenten Season.
Although the prophet Joel did not face a pandemic, he— and his people— faced a plague of locusts (Joel 1:1-20). He sounds an alarm and calls the Israelites to return to God and to “rend” their hearts, not their clothing (Joel 2:13).
Tearing one’s clothes was a sign of mourning or repentance. It was a common practice in Joel’s day. However, he sees that it is more than an outward sign (a religious gesture, or observance) God desires.
God wants us to “rend” our hearts (to rip, tear, and shred) all that keeps us from sincerely loving Him. God desires our heart to be purged and cleansed, not the outward signs of ceremonial observance.
It required a plague of locusts in Joel’s day. Perhaps it’s a pandemic in our time.
This year COVID-19 has detoured our Lenten Journey. But it’s not too late to “rend” our hearts and return to our gracious, merciful, and loving God.
It’s easy to permit COVID-19 to have center attraction right now. Yes, we must pay attention, be careful, and considerate of others. But there’s more to be concerned with than a virus.
Let’s not lose sight of the purpose of our Lenten Journey. Let’s not forget our need to:
Remember our sinfulness and need of a Savior.
“Rend” our hearts.
Return to God.
And also, to…
Reflect on the sufferings of Christ on our behalf.
We’re only facing a detour, not a delay.