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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

One Year Later

A Rabbi friend and I are having weekly conversations. In our last conversation, we reflected on the one-year mark of this COVID-19 pandemic. Together, we imagined this past year in parallel to "wilderness".

In Scripture, there are three great wilderness stories.

In the first, those in slavery to Egypt are freed and sent into the wilderness to begin forming a new community. They struggle with one another and make some big mistakes. They also craft new commandments for how they will do community with one another wisely as they make their way together toward the Promised Land.

In the second wilderness, the people are comfy and cozy in the Promised Land but have forgotten how to care for those in greatest need, the oldest, the youngest, the immigrants. The prophets warn the leaders and the people to remember and repent or risk losing everything and being cast out into the wilderness. They cannot lay down their power or share the abundance of their privilege, and so do get cast out into the wilderness.

In the third wilderness, Jesus is about to launch his effort to reveal God's will in the world. He faces three temptations. He devises strategies to resist the temptations that often resist seeing and following God's will.

This year of COVID has been like a wilderness.

In some ways, COVID is forcing us out of old ways and into new ways of being community. The old ways obviously don't work very well. For example, we didn't all follow obvious scientific and medical advice to keep each other safe. Political and partisan opinions carried more weight than truth and medical professional advice. Like the first wilderness, we need to escape from those old ways, and form new ways to be community.

In some ways, COVID has lifted up the cries of the most vulnerable. COVID has disproportionately affected families of lower income, and families of color. This reality has modern day prophets warning us all to take care of the most vulnerable first. We have a chance now to create a more just way of providing medical care before the next pandemic. If no, we risk losing the society we say we love, much like the second wilderness.

In some ways, these lessons of COVID will be difficult to implement. There will be resistance. However, much like Jesus in the wilderness, we must resist the temptations before us, and commit to learning and growing from this year of pandemic wilderness.

As you pray today, try to imagine...

What is one way we did church, community, or country before COVID that needs to be different and stay different when COVID is over?

What is one thing could you do in the next week to begin making that change happen?

Until next time, blessing, laughter, and loving be yours,

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

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