Amy Jones,
Agape Coordinator
Dear God, we come to worship you today. 
We come to pray, and listen.
You always hear us. 
Help us to hear you. Amen
John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.
3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,
5 ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’
6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)
7 Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.
8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’
9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,
11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
I was asked this very good question this week: If you order your groceries for delivery, and one of the items in your order is a DiGiorno pizza, is it delivery or is it DiGiorno? 

It is an impossible question! 

The question made me smile, but humor often articulates feelings that haven’t found any other expression. Food deliveries used to be a treat or something you did when you were too tired to cook. Now they seem like a way of life - or maybe the only way to safely get even the most essential groceries. 

The joke caused me to reflect on how quickly our whole existence has been carefully parsed into “essential” and “non-essential” categories. Grocery stores are essential. Barbershops are non-essential. I got an oil change for my car this week because my mechanic is essential. I tried to buy my kids some books for Easter gifts, but Barnes and Noble is not essential. Everything fits in an essential or non-essential category. 

My work has been essential these last several weeks, even though there is nothing in my training or experience that makes me particularly well-qualified to work during a pandemic. I’ve thought a lot about this: what is “essential” about someone who works with impoverished people? The only answer I can think of is that our society has implicitly decided that having a safe home and nutritious food is a human right and has signaled this by making people like me “essential.” This laid bare the realization that under ordinary circumstances we have relegated the work of making sure everyone gets a safe home and nutritious food to workers like me. 
There is an old graphic, familiar in United Methodist circles that I’ve used many times over the years to show the tension of our Christian journey. The graphic shows private and public acts on the x-axis and works of mercy and piety on the y-axis. The tension between private/public and mercy/piety has always made it difficult for me to decide which acts belong where, but I struggle this week more than ever as the “norms” of our lives turn inside out.

For example, since no one could meet in person for their Palm Sunday processionals-made-lightsabre-fencing, clergy friends of mine came up with carefully knitted together videos of parishioners parading around their lawns and streets with fresh cuts of young branches. The idea was a really ingenious use of technology to bring us together. It also demonstrated in real-time how important it is to have the participation of everyone in worship. One person marching around her backyard with a barely bloomed rhododendron is ridiculous. A video of fifteen people doing this is corporate worship, pandemic style. The videos also made me question what makes something an act of devotion (private) or an act of worship (public). Could rhododendron waving in my backyard be an act of devotion one moment, and an act of worship another? Or both at the same time, if it is done via Zoom?

Two weeks ago, I thought my work was an act of justice. Working in a public sphere to ensure that families had basic necessities like shelter and food seemed like an act of justice. It is now clear that basic necessities can fall away when something as ordinary as a virus takes hold of a community. Now I see that the work I have done was an act of compassion: a momentary relief for some, but not an alteration of the systems that cause the problems. The upending of systemic poverty will require that we all take on the work of caring for the most vulnerable people in our communities. That’s the work I want to do.

All of this is profoundly disorienting to me. I feel dizzy with change and physically and emotionally tired of trying to make sense of it. I think these are the feelings and emotions that Holy Week was always meant to provoke, but I was too busy enslaving myself to the production of human-made systems and norms to wonder about it.

I have time now to wonder. Holy Week feels like a jumble of grief, sadness, anger, and violence, but it is also an opportunity for divine creativity to break through with the gospel, or “good news.” I invite you to engage the disorientation of this time with me, and to do the work of choosing to participate in re-writing and re-evaluating old narratives and systems. Together, we can be living versions of Good News.
A Holy Week Lament
By Rev. Marissa van der Valk

Hear our hearts, O God
Another hand on the outside of a window
Pressed firmly on the glass
Unable to touch

We whisper divine one
The news says one million
Asymptomatic, symptomatic, quarantined
Suffer in silence
Save Us

Hold our hearts Lord, we don’t have the words
We have too many words
Essential, non essential
Jobs lost
God with us

Help us God, when we hear the words ‘positive’
In need of a respirator
Unable to breathe
Hand on my heart
Christ within us

My god, my god why have you forsaken me
Comfort in the passion
A lament that transcends time
Echoing in shelter in place

Hear our cries O lord, another nurse, another doctor
Grocery store worker, food pantry, homeless shelter
No place to go
Separated in the name of love
Save Us

Hear our steps, everlasting God
As we walk 6 feet apart
Scared into distance
Connect our hearts
God with us

Resurrected Christ hold us close
As we scream, as we cry
As we participate in acts of faith and love
As we move into the new and mourn the old.
Christ within us.

Save Us
God with Us
Christ Within Us
Amy Jones, Agape Coordinator
Amy Jones our Agape Coordinator is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. In this tradition, deacons are ordained clergy who bridge the ministry of the church with the needs of the world, and vice versa. In more than 15 years of ministry, she has worked in churches, in children and family ministry, higher education, and nonprofits. In each setting, her focus has been on matching the resources of the church with the needs of the world. Agape Community Kitchen is exactly the type of work she was called to do. 

Amy can be reached by email at:
The Presbyterian Church in Westfield continues to burn as a light in the darkness as our community weathers this fearsome storm of illness. Our reach of care continues to extend far beyond our immediate borders. You can help us make a real impact in the lives of others by joining in our work through your time, your talents, and also in the fruits of your labors.
Please watch your email, our church website and Facebook page
for updates on the ways in which you can worship at home!

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