“Under stress, people regress,” a psychologist told me recently. We imagined that pandemic lockdowns and masks would last weeks, but now it’s been five months. Political debates become acrimonious, domestic violence increases. Some impatient people ignore pandemic safety guidelines, which will extend the misery for all of us and lead to more deaths.
My (Zooming) home congregation is retelling the story of God’s people in the wilderness. Liberated from slavery, they heard God’s promise of a land of milk and honey ahead. It sounded like a journey of weeks, but lasted forty years. I wearied of mask-wearing after forty days.
We are impatient to get to a place of safety, full employment, and normal life. We see cherished milestones and events cancelled or reduced, and grieve. For those who lose loved ones, the pandemic is devastating.
Israelites in the wilderness complained, and some got nostalgic for the good old days (!) in Egypt. “We remember the fish we used to eat . . . the cucumbers, the melons . . . but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna!”
Moses got sick of the whining and complained to God, “Why have you treated your servant so badly . . . that you lay the burden of all this people on me?” God reacted to obstreperous Israelites by sending plague and fire. Even God seems stressed!
A year ago I journeyed through deserts of southern Israel where the Israelites wandered. At Timna National Park, I found a full-scale replica of the tabernacle. I wished the tabernacle still had a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night!
“Whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, then the Israelites would set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the Israelites would camp,” says Numbers 9. “Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the Israelites would keep the charge of the Lord, and would not set out.”
That imagery of patiently waiting for the next stage of the journey sustains me in this pandemic. Just like God was present to wandering Israelites in cloud and fire, God’s people can expect divine presence today. God led Israelites one day at a time, with just enough manna for one day. Israelites could not rush the journey, could not go back. They had to wait for the cloud to move—and so do we.
John 1 says, “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” This same Word promised to be with us to the end of the journey. Israelites followed numerous commandments to show love for God. We have just a few, but these remain essential: masks, distancing, hand washing.
Israelites or their descendants eventually got to the land of promise. A vaccine will come and we will get to a place of safety. Until then, wait for the cloud to move, obey COVID commandments, and rejoice that Jesus tabernacles with us.
Come with me to the Holy Lands! At this point no one knows what travel will be possible in the next year or two. But when COVID-19 subsides, I would love to have you join me on a pilgrimage. In 2021:
“Bread for the Journey” (Egypt and Jordan, April 9-21, 2021) See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2021-egypt/
“Journey of Hope” (Jordan, Israel and Palestine, September 12-23, 2021) See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2021-jordan-israel-palestine/