March 30, 2020
Beneath the cross of Jesus
I long to take my stand;
the shadow of a mighty rock
within a weary land,
a home within a wilderness,
a rest upon the way,
from the burning of the noontide heat
and burdens of the day.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #338]
The assigned lectionary readings for Sunday, April 5, 2020, Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday, are as follows:
Sunday morning, for the second week in a row, my wife, Linda, and I, sat down on the couch with our cups of coffee to watch a few live-streamed worship services. Before the end of the first hymn, my wife burst into tears. Startled, I asked what was wrong. "I'm upset that I can't go to church," she blurted out.
Linda is typical of many individuals who feel something very important has been taken from them. The Coronavirus has turned our world upside down, inside out and every which way but loose. We are wandering aimlessly, like a ship without a rudder. For many of us, the church has been our anchor, our shelter in the storm, our oasis in the desert. Now, all those symbols of security and stability have disappeared from our sight, who knows for how long.
It's hard when one's way of life is disrupted. As I've told people countless times, everything I do for the rest of the week flows out of my worship experience, no matter where it happens. And even though I've been able to experience more worship services online and see a multitude of sermons (call it my "virtual Saxon visitation," for those who get the inside joke), it still falls short when it comes to fellowship.
Isolation is the worst form of punishment one can inflict on a human being. In prisons the worst inmates are placed in solitary confinement. One of the worst forms of torture in wartime is to take the enemy and put him in isolation and deprive him of the company of his fellow combatants. When children misbehave often they are told to go to their room. It is a scientific fact that newborns can die if they do not experience human touch. And even if they do not die, they may be psychologically scarred for life.
In short, our identity, our sense of worth and the character of our maturity are all shaped by the quality of our relationships, of our deep bonds with significant others.
"It is not good for the man to be alone,"
we read in Genesis. Nor is it good for the woman or the child or any human being for that matter.
We are now forced to work from home, unless we're in an essential occupation. Even though there are advantages to not having to shave each and every day, it doesn't quite make up for the face-to-face contact I have with others.
Part of the sadness and frustration stems from the fact that we are powerless to do anything to resolve the problem of the Coronavirus. Isolation is a solution - or at least, a deterrent - but it doesn't meet our need for togetherness.
So here's what I'm thinking as we approach Holy Week, and as we brace for another weekend without in-person worship.
We will hear the long story of Jesus before Pilate and the high drama of the trial of Jesus, but in the comfort of our living room, not on a sometimes less-than-comfortable pew. And yet, I will venture to guess that the thought of sitting in that pew sounds better since we haven't sat in it for a half-month.
How will we hear this Gospel narrative compared to years past when we hardly paid attention?
It will be different, I guarantee you.
Because this week, you will listen, not only with your ears, but with your heart. You'll hear and pick up on little details that you didn't notice before. You may get a chuckle out of Pilate washing his hands and wonder, "was he ordered to wash them or was there the threat of a pandemic in those days?"
You'll hear Peter deny Jesus three times and promise that you'll never turn your back on Jesus again.
Jesus becomes the victim of politics, which lead to his death. There's a lot happening in today's society that can be compared to Jesus' time. Enough to make you wonder, how often have I put the country, the government, the job, my own human desires ahead of Jesus?
Those people who praised him on this day, only to yell, "Crucify him," a few days later, were not much different from you and me.
This isolation that we're experiencing is a good time to engage more deeply with God's word to learn the story of Jesus, to hear the story more clearly.
I've been searching high and low across the internet for prayers to conclude these weeks when we are at the mercy of an unknown illness that has forced us to rethink our priorities and challenged our faith.
I discovered a website titled Faith & Worship, by John C. Birch, a Methodist preacher from the U.K. What follows is one of several that he has written and appear on his page.
We pray for our communities -
that snapshot of humanity
with all ages, backgrounds,
education, employment status,
politics and religious viewpoint
who are our neighbors
in the streets where we live.
We pray for all of them;
not only those we know by name
and chat to through the day,
but also less familiar faces
about whom we know so little
and pass by with just a smile.
All in need of your love at this time.
Bless their homes and families,
and let your love and peace
so shine within this community
that smiles turn to conversations,
and strangers become friends.
We pray this through Jesus Christ,
the Prince of Peace. Amen
+Bishop Abraham Allende