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What Does ‘Keep Vigil’ Mean? 5 Lessons During Covid

In the months ahead, a vaccine will arrive and we will walk without fear. But for the moment, we are in between. The world hasn’t ended, but the world as we know it is ending. And every day we wake up to the fact that while we are still alive, there is more dying ahead for us. What to do in such…
By Seth Barnes

In the months ahead, a vaccine will arrive and we will walk without fear. But for the moment, we are in between. The world hasn’t ended, but the world as we know it is ending. And every day we wake up to the fact that while we are still alive, there is more dying ahead for us.

What to do in such a space? We need to learn how to keep vigil. 

When you sit vigil, you are waiting. You may be praying. It is often nighttime. Keeping vigil is the ministry of presence. It is the ministry that Job’s friends, Eli, Bildad and Zo, engaged in when they sat with him for a week and said nothing. (Job. 2:11-13)

It was also Mary Magdalene’s ministry before the grave of Jesus. Joseph “went off. But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary stayed, sitting in plain view of the tomb.” And though it appears they eventually left for home, they later returned and were there to continue the vigil Easter morning.

A confession: I’m an activist. This season of dying we’re in has me unsettled. I want to march and I want to advocate. But sometimes what God is asking us to do is just to keep vigil.

We would do well to learn from Mary Magdalene how to keep vigil. A few things she did:

1. She showed up. People are afraid of sitting with people in pain. Do it anyway.

2. She released control. The two Marys were powerless. They didn’t strive for control.

3. She didn’t give up hope. Jesus had said he’d be resurrected. She waited to see it.

4. She prayed. I’m inferring this, though Scripture doesn’t state it. It’s the one thing we can actually do as we keep vigil. Vigil is not a time to talk, but it is a great time to pray.

5. She persevered. The two Marys returned to the tomb Easter morning. Were they discouraged from so much sitting before the tomb? Feelings didn’t matter, they continued in their vigil.

What do we do while waiting for a vaccine? Learning from Mary Magdalene is a good place to start. The present time can be a time of preparation for the resurrection to come.

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