I can’t be the only person waking in the middle of the night and wondering. Wondering about how the global economy is going to survive a massive shutdown. Wondering about when this unnatural, abnormal way of life will end. Wondering in what ways life will have forever changed when the crisis is over. And anticipating all the investigations and accusations and political gamesmanship that will most certainly ensue, and drag on indefinitely. There’s a huge heaviness in all of this.
These are times that nobody wanted or planned for. But we shouldn’t be surprised, because disastrous and dangerous times have been around for all of human history. Why should it be different for us in the 21st century?
J.R.R.Tolkien, the masterful author of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and a devoted Christian, speaks to this reality in a scene that is one of my favorites in the movie trilogy. Frodo, the Hobbit elected to return the ring of power to the Mountain of Doom in order to stop evil from taking over Middle Earth, is expressing deep fear and regret to Gandalf the Wizard, his mentor, friend, and the one who got him into this mess to begin with. The whole company is in grave, immediate danger from Orcs, evil inhuman creatures, who’ve been alerted to their presence in the Mines of Moria by the bumbling curiosity of Pippin (the Simon Peter of Lord of the Rings).
Frodo, pulled away from his comfortable life in the Shire, and sick of the whole thing, even though the journey has barely begun, doesn’t pretend to be brave. He just comes out with it: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf, himself weary with struggle, and about to experience an epic fight for his very existence, replies, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
There it is, in just a few words. Our only decision is what to do with the time given to us. Not a period of time, but the limitations and frustrations of the current situation, and the uncertainties of the future. What does this mean for a time of limited opportunities while being forced to stay at home? Perhaps mostly a firm and committed belief that God is not surprised by this. Letting him build patience and unselfishness in me while I wait. Realizing that I’m not the only one missing hugs from grandchildren.
Things are what they are. We have no control over a virus, or the people in charge of a shutdown, and no influence over what they’re doing, whether it’s helpful or harmful. Honestly, there seems to be a lot of wandering around in the dark, but how could there not be? This is unmapped territory.
Back to Frodo and Gandalf. (If you haven’t seen the movies, go watch them as soon as you finish reading this. It will take nine hours, but you have the time. Besides being an incredible story, it’s marinated in Biblical truth). After battling the Orcs and attempting to leave the Mines of Moria, in fact, just as they are almost out, Gandalf is captured by a fierce creature called Balrog, and is assumed to be lost forever. Frodo and the rest of the company are nearly paralyzed with grief, but what do they do? They keep going. They have a mission.
Easter weekend is here. There will be no egg hunt with my grandsons, or dinner plans with family and friends, or gatherings at church to remember Jesus’ death and celebrate his resurrection. Though connecting electronically is a gift, it’s not the same as gathering with God’s people. Easter joy will be heavily tempered with loneliness and longing.
Our experience will be more like the very first Easter, where a small band of confused, frightened followers of Jesus gathered after witnessing his crucifixion. I wonder what they said to each other. Maybe there was nothing to say. Maybe they just wept, or sat in numb silence. This wasn’t what they were expecting, and now they had to figure out what came next. And of course they were in for a huge surprise, which changed everything, and set them on a path they could never have imagined.
We didn’t ask for this, but it’s what we have. But on this Easter at home, let’s ask God to give us a spark of surprised joy.
Here is Paul’s prayer for us: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:18-21).