Scripture: Luke 4:1-13.
At 11.59pm, 25th March 2020, New Zealand goes to Level Four Alert. Tomorrow we will be in Lock Down for at least four weeks. The Government has declared a state of National Civil Defence Emergency. Fifty new cases today bring the total of positive (and probable) COVID-19 to two hundred and five. The good news is twenty-two have recovered.
Anxiety and fear still cause Supermarket trollies to be obese. Travellers congest Ferry terminals, frantic to get across Cook Strait. Flights are rushing University Students back home. Will Kiwis overseas be trapped in foreign lands, where governments of all persuasions are moving into lock down millions of people? Good luck with that!
Only essential business will be open. People cry out these are unprecedented times. Maybe unprecedented for us baby boomers and younger generations but not if we look back into history. Have we taken our lifestyle for granted, unprecedented modern medical advances; incredible electronic technology connects us as global citizens? We wake up to living in “our bubble,” of social isolation and keeping a two-metre distance from others. Let’s look back for a different perspective.
An Historical Perspective:
The bubonic plaque and pneumonic infections swept across many nations’ borders between 1347 and 1351. In western Europe, especially Italy, France and Spain, between 30 – 40% of the urban population died. It was called the “Black Death.”
“Its origins were evidently in Central Asia, where headstones dating from 1338/39 in Nestorian graveyards in Kirgiz commemorate plaque victims. From there the outbreak evidently spread to India, China and Europe. Reaching Italy in late 1347, it went through the peninsula and into Switzerland, Germany and parts of eastern Europe. Before going on to France, Spain and England. London was reached in the spring of 1349.” 
COVID-19 is a different pandemic, but not unprecedented in human history. Have we become so proud and arrogant about the growth of consumerism, materialism, tourism, medicine, science and technology during the last two centuries? We ignore our history and traditions at our peril. These are not unprecedented times.
“Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” [Luke 4:1-2. NIV]
Interesting Jesus did not go panic buying of food for his wilderness experience. Filled with the Spirit he went into “lock down.” He was in social isolation and his physical distance from others was way more than two metres. In the history of the church, solitude has always been one of the spiritual disciplines. St Ignatius of Loyola, [1491 – 1556] wrote “Spiritual Exercises” which still provides a pattern for forty-day Retreats, of silence and solitude and prayer. A mature Christian Spirituality includes the discipline of Solitude. Inspired by Jesus example of forty days in the Judean Wilderness.
Jesus embodied solitude during his ministry. Leaving his disciples, he often went into solitude to pray through the night. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed long into the night, while his disciples fell asleep. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done.” [Luke 22:42]
In solitude and prayer, God gives us strength and confidence to face the dark forces of evil in every age. In solitude we move beyond the demands and expectations of others. We move beyond the manipulative power games that stalk and destroy so many relationships in our families and communities.
Perhaps during the four weeks of lock down we will discover the “Spiritual Discipline of Solitude.” Those who cannot bear to be alone, franticly turn to devices for entertainment; or rush into conversations interrupting others, failing to really listen for the hopes and fears of the conversation partner. Those who cannot bear to be alone usually become manipulative and domineering in family and community life. Those who are afraid of solitude are not safe in relationship with others.
Lord Jesus Christ, you often moved away from even your disciples to pray to your heavenly Father. We thank you for the gospel of your desert experience.
Lord we confess that we are often afraid to be alone; we seek distractions on TV, we play games on our electronic devices. Why do we find it so hard in times of Solitude? We confess we often talk too much and listen too little.
We confess our self-interest in controlling our conversations, too often we assert our opinions as the Truth. We drift into triviality and gossip. We take for granted our good life but fail to see the emptiness of our busy days.
God of grace and mercy forgive our foolish ways, and our habitual self-centredness. Grant us the assurance of forgiveness you promised to every humble soul, who continually turns in faith to Jesus Christ. Help us Holy Spirit to learn the spiritual discipline of Solitude, that we may truly become a blessing to those we live with in our bubble. In these troubled times help us to build hope in a troubled world in the name of Jesus. Amen.
 “The Dictionary of the Christian Church.” Edited by J.D. Douglas.