“Love in the Time of Cholera” is the classic novel written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. As faith community leaders, we are writing our own classic today. “Love in the time of Coronavirus.” Dr. Anthony Fauci has emerged as one of the honest, calming voices of this epidemic. Sounding as soothing as your own doctor when he delivers bad news, Dr. Fauci says, “Americans will likely need to stay home for at least several more weeks: “I cannot see that all of a sudden, next week or two weeks from now it's going to be over. I don't think there's a chance of that." So, here we are and here we are going to be for some time to come. As we settle into the wilderness created by nature, we recall when “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” Luke 4:1-2 Regardless of whether you are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a member of any other faith community or no faith community whatsoever, Luke’s parable of the temptation of Jesus offers a guide for the difficult and challenging times thrust upon us. At the parable’s core is the attack on Jesus’ identity. Having committed his life to God, Jesus “was led into the wilderness.” In much the same way, we have been led into an unfamiliar, foreboding place and left to figure out whether we can maintain the identity with which we were so secure a few weeks ago. Revisiting Jesus as he spends his 40 days in the wilderness helps to better understand what is at the center of the helplessness many are feeling while adjusting to a new way of life. Although it is a temporary adjustment, its sudden pervasiveness is disorienting in the extreme. And the experience threatens our very identity. This is our time in the wilderness. Everything we took for granted a short time ago is under attack. Jobs. Health. Relationships. Financial stability. The safety and security of family and friends. Our role as parents, caregivers, teachers, pastors. “Social distancing” is a form of isolation and that isolation undermines our identity. Like every other faith community leader, I am trying to reconfigure relationships with and among the members of my congregation and the wider community. Those relationships are a huge piece of my identity and that of my church. They are also a huge piece of the identity of those we serve.
I have become an “E-Shepherd,” pastoring in Cyberspace. I use Zoom to gather the flock for worship. I use the phone and email to make sure nobody feels forgotten. I have the Internet to make certain the world doesn’t get away from me. Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days models a response for us. Jesus recognizes his circumstance threatens his identity as a son of God. The temptation is strong to trade that identity for security.
Scripture also warns us that, as leaders of a faith community, our absence has consequences. In the 32nd chapter of Exodus, Moses leaves his people for a personal meeting with God atop Mount Sinai. “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, ‘Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Despite the barriers, as shepherds, we have a duty to the God we serve as well as the congregations we love to reinvent church while retaining its identity. -Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne and is the chair of WIN's Peace & Justice team.Rodger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org