The ancient Jews had in their possession the Ark of the Covenant. It was a box of acacia wood, three cubits by two cubits (a cubit was the distance from a man’s elbow to the tip of his middle finger, or about 18 inches). In the Ark were the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, the staff of Aaron, and a jar of the Manna. More important, it carried the presence of God! In some ways it resembles our tabernacles. The wings of the angels carved on its lid were said to form the mercy seat of God. Because the Ark sometimes had to be carried by the priests for long distances in the desert, there were two poles attached to its sides.
There came a moment with the Ark that seems to speak directly to our times—really to any moment of crisis or decision.
Early the next morning Joshua got up and left Shittim with all the Israelites. They went as far as the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the Levitical priests, you are to set out from your positions and follow it…so that you can see the way to go, since we have never been this way before” (Joshua 3:1-4).
The instructions were addressed to a people who faced dangers and threats in this crossing. The Jordan River was in flood stage; the current was swift and the waters wide. Second, once in the Promised Land, they faced formidable enemies who were sure to resist their entrance. So terrifying was this threat that forty years earlier most had balked at the idea of going to the Promised Land. Although God had said that they would endure, they did not trust Him. For this lack of faith, God had them remain in the desert for forty years while He purified and strengthened them; during that time that sinful generation largely died out (Numbers 13:25-33, Numbers 14:1-25).
Forty years later, the instruction to follow the Ark was both instructive and reassuring. Most simply, it meant: Follow the Lord and trust His power; trust His promise to vanquish foes and to deliver you to the Promised Land.
Today we find ourselves in a crisis of our own. We are struggling to emerge from a pandemic while many are still crippled with fear. We are experiencing a time of great civil unrest rooted in accusations of racial injustice and sinful reactions of looting, destruction of private and public property, and physical assault. Further, the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice has stirred strong feelings nearly across the board. Add to all this an approaching presidential election whose result is likely to be unknown until well after election day and which may be contested regardless of the result.
Yes, we are heading into difficult waters as were the Israelites of long ago. A “flood” of animosity grips our nation. The divisions are so deep that civil discussions are becoming increasingly rare. It is simple, raw power that seeks to prevail. Nietzsche roams our streets.
Though the events are separated by thousands of years, the instruction is the same: Follow the Ark of the Lord, for we have never been this way before. While there have been riots before, and there have been contested elections, we have never had both of those in addition to an unprecedented lockdown amidst a pandemic. The combination of political, racial, economic and health crises makes this arguably the worst time in this country since the 1860s. There are legitimate concerns expressed for the very future of our nation. In our lifetime, we have truly “never been this way before.”
In times like these, draw near to the Lord through prayer, Eucharistic Adoration, the rosary, and the Divine Mercy chaplet. Pour out your heart to God on behalf of our country. Humbly request His mercy and grace. If you are able, consider fasting and/or abstinence.
Uniting our country, recovering from a pandemic, addressing injustice, and stopping violence may not be things we can do on our own. Going to the Lord in humility, combining our prayers with others, and crying out together “Heal our Land, Lord!” will be our way of keeping our eye on the Ark of the Covenant and following where He leads, for, we have never been this way before. Seek the Lord, then, and follow Him.