First preached for at online, social-distancing service at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Logan Square.
Relevant lectionary texts here.
With gratitude to John Stendahl for his post on the etymology of “quarantine.”
The Spirit drove Jesus into quarantine for 40 days and 40 nights. He was socially distant from everyone. He didn’t go to the market. He didn’t visit his friends. Jesus fasted from his usual routine, his usual relationships, his usual ways of being.
The word “quarantine” has its etymological roots in a length of time, “quaranta” meaning 40 days in Italian. In the 14th century during the plague, there was a kind of medieval public health policy in Venice that decreed that 40 days, quaranta, was the period of time that people coming into the city had to be isolated before entering in order to keep everybody safe.
In the Bible, the number 40 is associated with testing, trials and judgement. Noah and his family and the animals were safe on the ark while it rained for 40 days and 40 nights in Genesis. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before reaching their new home. And in our reading today, just after being baptized but before beginning his ministry, Jesus is out in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus is in isolation for 40 days, quaranta, quarantined.
And it wasn’t easy for Jesus. It was difficult, being quarantined. Just as many of us are experiencing heightened anxiety or a resurgence of other mental health issues, Jesus during quarantine had to face down his own demons. It gets to him.
But although the number 40 in scripture signifies testing, trials, and judgement, it also signifies the fulfillment of God’s promises. In the story of Noah, God makes a promise to all of creation and seals it with a rainbow in the sky. In the story of the wandering Israelites, God does bring them into a new home, away from slavery, where they can worship God and be free. And in Jesus’ story of quarantine in Matthew today, God does not leave Jesus alone.
After his wrestling with the devil, God sends angels to come and care for Jesus. In the midst of his loneliness, his pain, his questioning, God sends holy attendants to comfort Jesus.
In our own time of quarantine and social distance, God has sent us angels too. They call you when they are out front of your apartment to say, “Hey this is Alex with Grubhub. Your delivery is ready.” They wear the aprons of grocery store workers. They are without proper masks, but still showing up to change IV’s in hospitals for their patients. There are angels all around us, serving and helping us in a time where it would be easy to feel like we were all alone.
We are not alone. We are separate. But we are not alone.
Jesus is here, in solidarity with us, in quarantine.
We are not alone.
There are angels in our midst who deserve our gratitude and all the justice we can offer. We can be angels to one another and care for one another in crisis. Staying home is one way of doing that. But I have seen you use other ways, too. I have heard about you making art for each other, or waving through windows, or calling each other on Zoom.
We are not alone.
We are out here, separate and distant, but in this together.
Thanks be to God.