When I was a kid, 50-odd years ago, the Sunday school group traveled from our little Southeast Iowa town to the Big City of Des Moines for an adventure at a little, long-since-gone amusement park. It was a big deal for us, though today’s kids, veterans of Six Flags and Disney and even virtual reality experiences in their own homes would surely describe Riverview Park as “lame” or “wimpy” or “cheesy”. (Wikipedia’s description: “a popular family entertainment oasis in early Iowa history.” I guess we were there when it was on its last legs.)
But in the early70’s, growing up in a small town (and “still hayseed enough to say, ‘Look who’s in the big town’” haha) there were elements to that park that were intimidating. That rickety wooden roller coaster, the first couple of times, was enough to make me weak in the knees and get my stomach to churn. It was probably the same for my friends, and so, though we all gazed longingly at the Ferris Wheel and even the Merry-Go-Round, none of us dared to suggest anything other than staying in line, like the brave 10-year-old men we fancied ourselves to be.
Too soon the chain of cars clattered to the platform and it was our turn to strap in. The cars began the ascent up those four or five circular turns to get us to the top, where there would be that momentary pause. Then the sudden drop and the thrills and speed and screams from some and jaw clenched and hands gripping the bar for me — and then it was finished. The first time, as we were chugging up that hill, our pastor, who happened to be in the car behind my friend and me, leaned forward and said, “Well, there’s no going back now.”
That phrase stuck with me. “No going back now.” For better or worse, we could not get out until it was over. Strapped in until the end. It had begun and there was a wild ride, but there WOULD be a point where it stopped. There WOULD be cotton candy and ice cream and hot dogs and an attempt for a stuffed animal on the Midway. There had been a beginning and there would be an end.
Today? We’re strapped in, looking at the next few weeks (months?) of Coronavirus in our region, our nation, and our world. There will be twists and turns. People will approach it differently. Some of us will white-knuckle it. Others will throw their hands up in the air. Still others will just throw up. It’s begun. We’re riding it, by virtue of being (currently) alive, even though we don’t like it.
But there’s an end. There is a time when it stops, when “the smoke clears and the dust settles,” so to speak. So don’t lose hope. Don’t give in. Take this time of fear (of sickness, of finances on the other side, of losing loved ones prematurely) and let it drive you to the Gospel. Pray! Read your Bibles! It’s amazing to me how much the Psalms speak to this particular moment.
Consider doctors and nurses and all those on the front-lines who are working to save lives and pray for them. Consider those who are manufacturing and shipping life saving supplies. Encourage! And be encouraged. Consider those who are grieving. Don’t turn away from the stories of our fellow-riders who live in Italy, Spain, China, Iran, NYC — who are mourning the loss of their loved ones. And consider the ones whose turn it is to fight for their lives. Weep with those who weep, says Jesus. Rejoice with those who rejoice.
This season of the year, and this season in history, it is natural to turn our thought to the One who voluntarily got on a ride that only He could ride. It is good to think about Him all the time, but my own heart finds it easier to do this 1)during a crisis, such as our current pandemic, and 2)during Holy Week.
As Holy Week begins, remember this person, Jesus, who left heaven and came down voluntarily for His people (Phil. 2:5-8). Consider Him on the Mount of Olives, facing a wild ride only He could face, being strapped in to torture, ridicule, and then the wrath of God the Father poured out on Him as He bore our sins in His body on the tree. What was He thinking as He approached that death? The Bible tells us.
Luke 22:41-44, And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.
I like to consider that Luke passage with this one, where Jesus said, No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord (John 10:18).
So it begins. No turning back. (Churchill: “When you’re going through hell, keep going!” Us: “In this case, we’re strapped in and don’t have a choice!”). But there is an end. We little Iowa kids stepped off of that roller coaster. COVID-19 will run its course. Jesus emerged from the grave. Death is defeated, once and for all.