This afternoon in the city of Tampa Mayor Jane Castor plans to issue a “stay-at-home” order in response to the growing incidences of virus cases locally and statewide. We were not the first to issue such an order nor will we be the last.
In its own way, it is as though each family is being sent into exile away from so much of they know as familiar: work, recreation, grandkids, grandparents, gathering places where community is formed, church, and more. Consider a week during the “old normal” and list out all the places you went but now can no longer go. Perhaps that is a glimpse into a limited exile.
The first reading from today’s Mass is from the Prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel is unique in that he is the first prophet appointed outside of Judah or Israel:
1 In the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was among the exiles by the river Chebar, the heavens opened, and I saw divine visions.—2 On the fifth day of the month, the fifth year, that is, of King Jehoiachin’s exile,3 the word of the LORD came to the priest Ezekiel, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar.—There the hand of the LORD came upon me. (Ez 1:1-3)
He is living among the exiles in Babylon who were in the first wave of refugees deported from Jerusalem in 597 BCE. Now it is the fifth year of exile. Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, King Zedikiah, who Babylonians placed on the throne, is planning a revolt that will end disastrously creating the second and great wave of refugees bring the Babylonian Exile to its full measure.
Here and in many places across the state, nation, and world, we are seeing wave upon wave of people entering our modern form of coronavirus exile – the stay-at-home order. All of us wondering how long it will last and none of us really having an answer. All we have is hope.
The practical hope that people will take this order seriously. The hope that our friends, colleagues, neighbors, and people we only know in passing – all will find a way through these times. Through the coming financial shock as bank accounts drain, businesses shutter the operations, the lucky ones work from home while trying to home school the children, the unlucky ones file for unemployment, and all of us wonder what the morning will bring. Will there be a call of a loved now infected? Hospitalized? Hovering at death’s dark and silent gate?
It is in these times that it is easy to “spiral down the rabbit hole” and let the situation erase the last vestige of Hope. The capital-H kind of Hope that comes from the presence and promises of God. As was discussed in our parish Men’s Fellowship Group – not the optimism that it will all turn out for the better, but the Hope that however it turns out, God is present.
A generation later, King Cyrus will send the people of Israel home. What they will not see is the Jerusalem they left behind. That way of life was damaged and needed to be rebuilt in the passing of time. But the Prophets shows the people that Hope can fuel new and better ways of being God’s people.
A week, a month from now or more, Mayor Castor will send us back into the world out of our home-based Exile. The way of life we will return to will be damaged and need to be rebuilt. God will be present the whole time. In exile and during the rebuilding.
God of the moments now and to come,
God who in Jesus stilled the storm waters
God who soothes the despairing heart
Bring Hope and Courage
to we who wait in uncertainty.
Remind us of you, our Hope
Lift us up to be Equal to what lies ahead
Give us Courage to endure what cannot be avoided
Give us Perseverance to rebuild
Remind us of the Hope that however our Exile ends
Your are present
You are Lord