Tended by Angels

by | Feb 19, 2024

He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.                                                           

Mark 1:13

We are now in the season of Lent. There have been many meanings and practices associated with Lent. One early practice of Lent was to use this time to prepare through teaching and self-examination those people seeking to be baptized, which was traditionally done on Easter. Of course there were parallels drawn between the 40 days of Lent and the 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness. These days, Lent is generally acknowledged by Christians as a season to reflect on God’s love through Jesus Christ, and our need for God’s grace, as mortal, broken humans. Some fast in some way, whether it be as an act of penitence, or cleansing, or to help us resist the things that we risk trusting more than God.

Whatever your practice, the first observance of Lent—the Ash Wednesday service—reminds us of our mortality. We are marked with ashes, and told that we are nothing more than dust. And we are often reminded to think of our vulnerability, and our sinfulness that can only be cleansed by God’s grace. So it’s no surprise that yesterday, the first Sunday of Lent, I heard a sermon about weakness.

The sermon started with a reference to the muppet Elmo’s online check-in, “How is everybody doing?” Many people responded to Elmo with poignant notes about their emotional states—some positive, some worrisome. When the preacher asked us “How are you doing?” I almost started to cry. I’ve been sharing with folks how so many people are struggling, especially with multiple, seemingly disconnected health concerns. A vibrant young woman gets bronchitis that turns into pneumonia and she ends up in the ICU. A strong and able man struggles to balance possible organ damage, depression and anxiety, and susceptibility to every virus floating around (and there are a LOT of viruses floating around). One mother who worries about her young adult son keeps experiencing symptoms that seem to point to lupus, then ends up in a hospital getting a pacemaker, then ends up in the hospital again due to tuberculosis. And the few people who are healthy are spinning around trying to keep everything going—and, as one of Elmo’s responders wrote, “Elmo, we are tired.”

One of our pastors shared how he is faced with challenges in his family’s health, and several folks in the church are struggling as well. I said that it seems like we’re in a different world now, when the level of uncertainty is such that it seems foolish to make plans, because things can change so radically without any warning. We weren’t sure if there was a time when life was more stable and we could plan things out, and have confidence that the plans would go as we expected, or if we were just fooling ourselves. Honestly I do think we have had enough privilege that shielded us from the vagaries of life. Most of us have shelter to keep us warm and dry, good food and medical care to keep us healthy, and we live in the part of society when people are able to pay their bills on time, control their own schedules, and access resources to help us take care of our loved ones when needed. Nowadays, we are experiencing medical conditions that the doctors could not predict and can’t even diagnose, folks are living in a gig economy that does not provide for a steady and predictable income (or a manageable schedule), and especially those in “sandwich” generations are stretched to care for aging parents and dependent children. How can we take care of each other, and get everything done?

It occurs to me that for some of us, the thing we need to fast from is not chocolate, or meat, or whatever popular Lenten practice we habitually fall into. Perhaps we need to fast from thinking we can do it all, that we can create perfection (or control) out of chaos. Maybe we need to go into the wilderness as Jesus did, and see if God will send angels to wait on us as we need it. That means we dare to stop trying to make everything work, and step back and try to slow down our too-busy lives.

We might then notice that just as we were fooling ourselves into thinking that we can make everything work the way we planned it, we have also failed to notice the ways God takes care of us already.

Instead of giving thanks for God’s care, we work to show that we earned everything we receive. But there might be angels waiting on us now—or trying to—whether or not we notice. I recently shared the ancient saying which comes to me quite often these days, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.” And God provides, whether or not we appreciate the many ways we are loved, protected, cared for, and saved every day.

As I think you know, I’m a doer, so I don’t always give God credit for God’s extraordinary grace showered on me. I continue to live by the simple rule that we do the best we can, and turn to God for what we cannot do. For some of us, perhaps Lent can be a time to slow down—maybe even stop for a breather—and appreciate how God takes care of us, if only for a moment, or for 40 days. Because even during this season of humble reflection, we cannot forget that we are already a saved people, tended to by the life-giving power of the love of Jesus Christ. Even when we are in the wilderness, may we never forget that. And may we uphold in prayer and hope those who are even deeper in the wilderness—God’s children who may wonder if those angels know how to find them too.

In the peace of Christ,