Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
So often what we say (or what I say) in worship is that we stand with our brothers and sisters gathered around the world. This has never been more real for me than the Sunday after 9 people were shot during Bible Study in a Charleston, SC church in June 2015. And this morning, exactly one week after 26 people died similarly in Sutherland Springs, Texas worshipping our God. These assaults on church life register very deeply within me which is not to say that other don’t because we know that the Church is not limited to brick and stone but lives in our hearts. Still, there is something about the gathering place that we yearn to be safe from the horrors of life if only for a little while.
The word sanctuary means “a place of safety and refuge”. Home, school, church – if we can’t be safe and secure anywhere else, these are the places we want to be able to ease up a little bit and let down our guard; is that not true? Yes, I think it is.
So often, after tragedies like this, our politicians and elected officials remind us how strong and resilient we are. New Yorkers are strong. Las Vegas Strong. Orlando Strong. And there is a real sense that this is true. We are strong and resilient people and we must go on regardless. Have the Halloween parties! Get back to work! Ride the subways! Don’t fear. Don’t panic. And I get that. I really do.
But I also think there are times, circumstances, situations, that need our attention in a different way. There are incidences in which we cannot and should not go on as though nothing happened when in fact, everything has happened. I’m not suggesting that we sit in a state of paralysis, unable to move, but that we might posture our heart, mind, body, and spirit with openness about what it all might mean and a spirit of discernment about how to move forward in a healthy way. So often, we just keep going dragging around unresolved thoughts and feelings; pain and anguish only to be manifested later on.
Sometimes in the church we need to sit with people spiritually. Put ourselves in their place; walk around in their shoes for a while. We need to imagine their situation in a profound way.
I wanted to sit with those Christians in Sutherland Springs this morning. Just like I wanted to sit with those in Charleston in June 2015. Our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. And other places as they bury their dead. As they ask God why. I want to feel their lament: Lord, make haste to help us. Come quickly. Show us the way. En-live our spirit and restore our soul. Renew our faith. For their lament is also our lament. I know it’s mine.
On days like this, I like to sit with an old psalm like Psalm 70. Some believe that it is written by King David near the end of his life. His enemies were encamped all around and he was unsure of how he might go on.
This short little psalm – just 5 verses is really a prayer; a prayer of desperation framed with repetitions that speak to the urgency of need and circumstance. He prays in first-person; Lord, I need you.
I am poor and needy (in heart and spirit); all other resources have been exhausted; you alone are the only One who can help me. You, O God are my help and my deliverer. Do not delay.
I like this psalm because it reminds us that we don’t have to be cheery all the time. We don’t have to act like everything is alright when it is not. It suggests that there are appropriate times and appropriate circumstances in which we can appropriately be outraged; filled with despair.
It’s not ok for there to be so much injustice to be in our world. It is not ok. It’s not ok for men and women to be mistreated; abused – sexually or otherwise. It is not ok that eight people in one family should die with one swift blow. It’s not ok that a baby yet born has no chance in life. It’s not ok that people cannot travel the world with a reasonable expectation of safety and sheer fun. It’s not ok and I’m not ok with it. We weep; we lament.
Now juxtapose that with the gospel: a poor widow in a funeral procession, the starkest of all realities. She is in a funeral line about to bury her son; her only son.
It is the ultimate reality and the darkest of all imaginings. As painful as it is to lose a mother, father or grandparent; an auntie or teacher mentor who steered us on the way that seems the natural order of things. We expect to bury up; to lay to rest those older than ourselves. But to lose a child; your baby is something else.
Death has a way of leaving us bewildered like nothing else and sometimes momentarily paralyzed. It is never a welcomed visitor. There is never a good time for death to come; not even when the person we love has been suffering and in pain. We wish the pain would go away but that the person would live on for a while longer. And yet, death is our common denominator. It is the road that we are on from the moment we are thrust through the birth canal we are on our way and so we must learn how to deal with our loss and to help others that we care about.
We find Jesus at one of the most familiar of all scenarios this morning; among the mourners – people who grieve. We have all been there, have we not? Surely he is in Sutherland Springs this morning, and Argentina, and New York City, and all the world among the hurting.
This woman in ancient Palestine would have been the most vulnerable of all. No husband and now no son to take care of her or to give her value and meaning. Her social and financial status is at risk. Her suffering is multilayered, triggered by loss. Heavy heart, single, poor, no man in her life.
Luke tells us that a large crowd from the city was with her. And when Jesus saw her, the Lord had compassion for her. Compassion. Jesus said to her, “Don’t cry.” While we have our thoughts and beliefs about it, death is still shrouded in so much mystery. But what we find here, is Jesus being willing to walk with us in our loss. He shows up along with the large crowd with healing love and he reminds them and us of the of resurrection hope. That though death is real – physical and spiritual, it is not the end of things.
And just as Jesus reached out to touch the casket’s bier he also reaches out to touch our lives and the dead places we find ourselves in. We live in the quiet gap between the joyful celebrations of life and sorrows that take our breath away and seem to never end.
We must have hope. And we must work. We must trust a God who knows what it means to lose a son; and a son to know what it means to lose his life yet lives again. We must trust that on the other side of death and darkness, all the anxiety and loss in life, there is God.
That’s what we say, isn’t it? That’s what we struggle to believe and it’s also what we hope more than anything else. That God continues to reach out to us; reach out for us. That God continues to touch us with grace and strengthens us with courage and compassion over and over. And that we might, somehow, by this same good grace touch one another.
Let us draw near as God draws near to us. O Lord, You are our help, our Deliverer. Do not delay. Make haste to help us.