To be honest, I have struggled with the limitations and the losses of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of the time I am weary and feel like I am carrying extra weight on my shoulders. Can you relate to having extra layers of physical exhaustion and mental stress? Even further for me, the loss of my job has uncovered deeper vulnerabilities. It’s like a hidden stream of regret is bubbling up from the ground of past choices, albeit good ones. As I was exploring personally, God led me to a verse in Exodus. The words “the Lord kept vigil” hit me like a deeply needed hug from a friend. The Lord kept vigil. God is a vigil-keeping God. Wow. The Lord is keeping vigil. I just can’t get over it.
“Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the Lord for the generations to come.” Exodus 12:42
What do you think of when you hear the word “vigil?” Remembering the victims of a tragedy? Lighting a candle? Praying for someone? Waiting bedside in a hospital? Protesting non-violently against injustice?
Previous to the night God kept vigil, his desperate people cried out in misery. They were oppressed, enslaved, and quite possibly out of hope. They were beaten down by the situation in which they found themselves. They needed rescue. What once was a place of life and nourishment, a place that actually saved their lives from famine, became a harsh, driving, open air prison.
But God heard their cries and prayers and began to work a plan. There is much to this story, handfuls to glean, but my heart and mind laser-focused on one aspect: the attentiveness of God. Maybe your heart and mind need to see this too?
Shooting straight to my beat down, weary heart and mind, God’s like,
“I keep vigil for you. The light is on. I am awake.”
He was working throughout the ordeal back then and he is working throughout this ordeal in 2020 as well. He stayed up guarding and observing his children. God stays up all night, every night. He keeps vigil.
I will not forget the 54 hours I kept vigil, praying for my son as he completed the last, most challenging test before becoming a United States Marine. Well I wasn’t awake for all of those 54 hours, but most of them anyway. It’s tradition for family members and friends, especially mothers, to decorate and keep a lantern lit during the excruciating test of endurance as they pray for their loved ones, cheering them home.
In the dictionary in Google a vigil is defined as “a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray.” When people sleep, God is awake. The night of very first Passover God stayed awake protecting the babies and families whose households had blood on their doorways, foreshadowing the coming Christ. They did what God asked in a desperate act of trust in a God who they believed for rescue.
One of the songs the Israelites would later sing as they kept vigil, walking to Jerusalem to celebrate, remember, and observe the very night of God’s rescue, is recorded in Psalm 121.
“I raise my eyes to the mountains: from where does my help come? My help comes from Yahweh, maker of heavens and earth. He doesn’t give your foot to slipping; your keeper doesn’t doze. There, he doesn’t doze and he doesn’t sleep, Yisrael’s keeper. Yahweh is your keeper, Yahweh is your shade, at your right hand. By day the sun will not strike you down, or the moon by night. Yahweh will keep you from everything bad; he will keep your life. Yahweh will keep your going out and your coming in, from now and permanently.” (First Testament translation)
Every time they sung this it jogged their memory on who their God was and what he did and what he can do. This is who God is, the awake one, the God who keeps watch.
It reminded me of a time when Jesus asked some of his disciples to keep watch. But they couldn’t. They couldn’t stay awake on the night Jesus was in trouble. When the weight of the world pressed down on Jesus, his friends lacked the endurance to stay awake. He would go off to pray in another section of the garden and he asked them to watch and pray. But each time he came back, they were asleep. Jesus stayed awake crying out to his Father in heaven but they kept falling asleep.
On the night of Passover celebrating the very first Passover God kept vigil again, this time with flesh on. This time, instead of the sacrifice of an animal, he was processing his way to the surrender of himself for the rescue of his friends, the ones who couldn’t stay awake. And it’s for us, too, his new friends. God keeps vigil when we can’t.
When we are weary God keeps vigil. His light is on and he is awake, cheering us on, working on our rescue, standing with us in our suffering, and waiting for us to come home.
Help us remember you are awake. We praise you because your light is on. You are light. Even though we have many questions, we look to you. We feel weighed down, we need you. When we feel we can’t take anymore, help us see the light of your lantern lit for us until we are safe and home. Your ways and your love are more than we can fully see. But let us see the reflection and glimmer all around us in the midst of these uncertain and sometimes volatile times. Let us be your love and light to the ones near us. You are a vigil-keeping God. We can sleep and rest because you are indeed awake.