I heard a horn honk from behind. I turned the car on and moved up the six feet. We were inching closer to getting swabbed again.
This site was giving rapid tests and by the time you finished the winding journey down the street, in front of the urgent care and to the white tents, you would have your results. You would know whether you were headed to quarantine or not.
As 2022 began, we all found ourselves being tested again. After a brief reprieve, we were all swept under the wave of another surge during what seems like a never-ending pandemic.
We found ourselves back in the pattern of testing and waiting and testing and waiting, wondering whether we were positive, wandering through slow car lines while we discovered we were not the only ones exposed to a new variant.
It all felt too familiar because we’ve been here before. We’ve done this routine of quarantine and testing again and again, but this time is different.
This time we are more exhausted and less patient. This time we are wondering just how long we were going to have to live like this. This time it is harder to find the light in the shadow of uncertainty.
We are wilderness living, just like the people of God wandering in the wilderness.
It is not a coincidence that Luke’s gospel recounts Jesus’ wilderness living right after he is baptized by John.
Luke 4:1-2 it says, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.”
After Jesus’ wilderness living, he was tired, he was thirsty and he was famished. Jesus’ story and journey parallels the journey of the people of God in the book of Exodus.
In Exodus 16:2-3 it says, “The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’”
The people of God were tired, thirsty and famished just like Jesus. They were freed from Pharaoh with miracles and bountiful evidence that God was leading them, and yet they still found it difficult to live in the wilderness.
Jesus just had the presence of God alight on his shoulders, and the heavens opened up and declared his glory, and still he found it hard to live in the wilderness.
Both the people of God and Jesus found themselves in the wilderness, having to adapt to a new way of life. They were tempted and tested. They had to learn what wilderness living really was. They had to learn to slow down and live day by day and step by step.
On our best days, we can recognize the manna falling from the sky, providing for our daily needs. We can almost see the promised land flowing with milk and honey. We offer gratitude for the pillar and light that are guiding us and leading us out of bondage and into new life.
On our more uncertain days, we hoard the manna, wanting a promise for more than just our daily bread, only to find the next morning that our long-term plans have spoiled.
We question and quarrel, wondering if we really are on the way to the promised land. We lose faith that the light is leading us out of the wilderness.
We look to the gospel to see how Jesus approached wilderness living, hoping there is something we can hang on to.
We know we are being tested just as Jesus was. We know that there are distractions of power and glory pulling at us. We wonder whether we will have the strength to say, “no,” just one more time to these distractions.
Will this wilderness living be 40 years or 40 days? Are we getting close to the end? Will our faith and hope persevere long enough to make it through this season?
Our questions and doubts rattle around in our heads and hearts as we try to convince ourselves to take just one more step and make it just one more day. As the sun sets and we close our exhausted eyes, we see the stars and remember the promises God has made to God’s people.
We remember that we are not alone. We remember that God walks beside us, and that God’s own son has walked through the wilderness, too.
Wilderness living doesn’t last forever. It all always comes to an end.
And so, we walk on, day by day, step by step, clinging to God’s promises and following the light.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a lectionary-based series for the season of Lent. One article will be published each week, offering reflection on one or more of the lectionary texts for the upcoming Sunday. The previous article in the series is:
Lenten Lectionary | Returning to God, Returning to Self | Molly T. Marshall
Pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, South Carolina, and editor-in-chief of Harrelson Press Publishing.