“To live without hope is to cease to live.” Fyodor Dostoevsky

I wonder if we will look back on 2020 and tell those too young to remember it, “To live without toilet paper is to cease to live”. It definitely didn’t cause us to cease laughing. Two LA violinists went viral for their performance of the theme ‘Titanic’ in a store’s empty toilet paper aisle, and an LA taco spot sold “emergency taco kits” that came alongside four rolls of toilet paper. Perhaps hope remains; it’s not the end of the world.

About 3,000 years ago the situation was looking very dire when God withheld rain from Israel for three years as a result of the sin in the land. After such persistent drought, the citizenry of Israel had all given up hope. The situation became so bleak that even the King of Israel left his throne to search for hope.

“Go through the land to all the springs and valleys. Maybe we can find some grass to keep the horses and mules alive so we will not have to kill any of our animals.” So they divided the land they were to cover, Ahab going in one direction and Obadiah in another.” 1 Kings 18:5-6

Soon the prophet Elijah set up a showdown on Mount Carmel challenging a large contingent of priests of the false god Baal who attempted to get their god to answer by fire to prove he was real. They danced and jumped around the alter crying out loudly and savagely cut themselves till they were as bloody as the sacrifice, but no answer came. When Elijah prepared his sacrifice and called on the Living God who immediately answered by fire.

What’s easy to miss in this encounter is that Carmel was known as a high place – a location of an altar to make sacrifices. Since it was a great distance from the temple in Jerusalem, the Israelites were permitted to make offerings at Carmel, but they were not devoted in their worship, so there were two altar areas. One altar area for Baal and one for the Living God, so the people could serve both the real God and the false Baal.

“Elijah the prophet came near and said…Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again (around).” 1 Kings 18:37

The absence of water was not the Israelites greatest obstacle – God could have given that anytime. The lack they had endured was sent by God to help capture their hearts. Likewise, in our world of viruses, shortages, and quarantine, we have reacted with an unimaginable grip of fear and hoarding, not for what we need but what we might need. In the face of disease and death, our response is more like that of the priests of Baal, then those relying on the Living God. Since corona means crown, I wonder if God is asking us to examine our altars?

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.” Amos 8:11

So many seem unable to identify truth from falsehood without the filter of fear. We are hearing the voice of the Liar and Deceiver louder and clearer, as he moves hope, trust, faith, and prayer to an afterthought. He does this by causing us to question the idea of truth, until “truth” is a matter of opinion and “truth” becomes whatever we say it is and whatever we believe it is. As Dostoevsky noted, “If there is no God, everything is permitted.”

When we feel afraid, the fear seems reasonable, so we don’t activate our faith or trust in God, and panic overcomes us, as hope disappears. The events causing the fear are real, so we insist in the “truth” of what we fear. We have built an altar to the real God right next to an altar to a false god. The Living God is right there next to us, but He is truth and His ways just aren’t considered a viable answer let alone the only answer. Altars are all about death. In our days you can get the latest update of corona deaths anytime on the web.

Death was the theme of the recent Passover as we recalled the plagues of Egypt and the Israelites miraculous deliverance by the Hand of God, as well as the death and resurrection of Jesus and our deliverance from sin. But the theme of death doesn’t stop there. Thirty days later we run into a rather obscure feast called Second Passover (beginning this year on the evening of May 7th).

“Now there were certain men who were defiled by a human corpse, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day…Why are we restrained from presenting the offering of the Lord at its appointed time among the children of Israel?” “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.” Numbers 9:9-11

While Passover involves a week of fasting from leavened bread, Second Passover is just a single grace-filled day where leaven is not forbidden except during the meal. It’s an unexpected chance for hope and communion with God for those who have traveled down a road of death or pain and loss. They are all alone in a crowd, because the things of life have left them ineligible to take part in what matters most.

Dealing with death, touching it, changes you and you can’t fix it. You lose someone, you take a life, or maybe someone kills something in you. It didn’t just hurt you or even devastate you, a part of you died. Your chance came and went, so now what? Those who appealed to Moses did not ask to be excused from Passover. They asked that they “not be restrained,” from encountering God just because His appointed time had found them spiritually indisposed. God has placed a road sign on a dark road to nowhere: “Second chances available here…It’s never too late.”

The Roman philosopher Seneca counseled, “Don’t stumble over something behind you.” The Second Passover helps prevent that stumbling by opening a door to Teshuvah. Teshuvah is often translated as repentance, but it is much more than changing behaviors or receiving forgiveness. It’s the power to go back in time and redefine the past. God climbs down into our deepest pit to show us the way out and makes our failures powerless to control our future. Teshuvah is an encounter with death that arouses a striving for life and awakens an unquenchable yearning for home. God restores us, not to brand new, but so that we are scarred and stronger. With Teshuva, the past abounds with opportunities, just like the future. Seneca also said, “As long as you live, keep learning how to live.” It’s sound counsel.

Second Passover is an encounter with the God who washes the feet of His betrayer, who doesn’t shrink back from touching our leprosy, and makes the shattered whole. It’s a true encounter with death, but an equally powerful encounter with Jesus who raises us back to life. The pain and impurity are replaced. Christ now lives His life in us. Teshuvah is the promise from God that the past does not determine the future. The power of the cross of Jesus can be difficult to understand, even after salvation, right up to the moment you let Him meet your every need.

“Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5