Return to God in Disaster
Monday, March 23, 2020
Devotional for Day 6
The situation seems impossible. The effects would be immediately felt by the people of the region and the consequences would be far-reaching. There was no escaping, and no way to hide from the devastating results. This is not referring to the spread of COVID-19 in 2020, but instead to the Jewish people living in the Persian Empire circa 450 B.C. A legal decree went out stating that the Jewish people would be destroyed and their homes plundered. How could they be saved?
When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king's gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king's gate clothed in sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king's command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. Esther 4:1-3 (ESV)
The story of Esther is a familiar favorite to many. Two weeks ago today, on March 9, 2020, Jewish people around the world celebrated Purim, a day of feasting, costumes, giving gifts, and reciting the story of Esther. The Book of Esther tells us this story where the Jews were delivered from Haman’s plot of destruction. But before the Purim celebration, the Jewish people remember the impossible situation.
The passage above describes Mordecai’s response to hearing Haman’s evil edict. When presented with the severity of the situation, Mordecai immediately reacts with grieving. His wearing of sackcloth and ashes demonstrated humility before God in mourning on behalf of the nation. He recognized that this edict would bring death to his culture and community. This response of grief spread throughout the Jewish people- mourning, fasting, weeping, lamenting.
For many of us, these are also our responses to COVID-19. Mourning social implications - video streamed church, canceled events, distance learning, and closed restaurants and parks. Weeping for illness, life interruptions, and financial fallout. Lamenting empty grocery store shelves, overrun medical facilities, dire social media posts and shared news articles. And finally, fasting.
But unlike Mordecai in his grief and fasting, we are able to approach the King. The passage states that “[Mordecai] went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth” (vs. 2). Dressing in sackcloth and ashes outwardly demonstrated Mordecai’s mourning of the unjust decree. However, this demonstration limited the access that Mordecai had to the king.
Our King is not like that. Instead, our God invites us to fast, weep, and mourn as we turn to Him. The Book of Joel says:“Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
and he relents over disaster. Joel 2:12-13 (ESV)
Our fasting is a way to return to the Lord. We fast, not for the outward demonstration, but for the inward changing of our heart as we become more open before God. We fast, and weep, and mourn for ourselves and on behalf of our nation so that God will relent in this disaster. This passage reminds us that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” We fast so that we are able to experience this together!
Just as the Jewish people in the Book of Esther shared in the grieving and fasting, they also shared in the victory and celebration. The shift was experienced by all the Jews “...from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday...” (Esther 9:22). May that be true for us as well.
Lord God, we return to You today, our hearts open before You. Thank You, King of the Universe, that You hear us when we cry out to You with fasting, weeping, and mourning. We grieve for how this has disrupted our lives and livelihoods and interrupted our nation. May we turn to You in the uncertainty. We fix our eyes on You. Thank You that You hear us, see us, and respond to us. Align our hearts and our nation with Your heart. Let us experience Your steadfast love because You are gracious and merciful. Amen.
In Christ’s love,
Events Manager, Christian Union