Let’s start with things we know and are important at this very moment. All of us are confronted with these three facts.
- We are in the midst of collectively fighting the Covid-19, the Novel Coronavirus, without a clear end in sight.
- Today is Palm Sunday, beginning of the Holy Week.
- “Truly this man [Jesus] was God’s Son.”
What are your feelings and thoughts? How are you doing? I’m sure that on the one hand everyone will say they are doing ok. But on the other hand, if we were honest with ourselves, we are not ok. I know people for whom death has hit them close in these past weeks. One of our parishioners lost a family member recently. I have a friend whose community is hard hit with coronavirus and people he knows as acquaintances as well as friends and their families have died or are hospitalized and fighting for their lives. I don’t know how you feel, I personally have been feeling overwhelmed. Even my friend who claims she is anti-social has admitted that she is struggling in this time. She used to pride herself to think she was strong even to get through isolated times. But she admitted that in all honesty, isolation was getting to her too.
I know that each of us are not dealing with same difficulties. I know that our hearts are not broken by same concerns. I know some of us are alone but some of us are with family. And yet, we share this in common: we have our faith in God and yet even so these times are difficult for us. As a people of this globe at this time, and as people living in this nation, we are going through dark valleys. Each and every one of us. What is the purpose of looking to God during these times? What is the benefit of being part of God’s family during these times? What difference does our faith make as each of us on our own navigate through the strain and stress of daily lives which has become a hardship for every one of us?
To be honest, yes, this week’s worship was difficult to prepare, to be able to lead, to guide us through the worship service through writing prayers and sermon message. I had to dig deep in the bible and I had to dig deep in the depths of my soul, for truth and for strength and for hope. I realized that we had to begin this service by hearing God’s word with the truth, the truth and reality of what we are facing. We have to acknowledge these times are not like other times. But whether in difficult times or not, our faith keeps us grounded, yes?
As I dug deeper and deeper into the scripture, the words of the Psalm 31 spoke to me as if any one of us could have written it this past week. If you would, read these words again, but this time, read the psalm as your own prayer to God…
“Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;” – What is your distress? What does that distress feel like?
“my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.” – Tears, are they filling up your eyes at times? Spilling out of your eyes? Perhaps you might have wailed this week, in agony, and in pain?
“For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing;” – Are you only in these past few months feeling difficulties or perhaps your life in the past few years, and for some, perhaps your entire life might have felt like it has been spent with sorrow? Do you feel your life will never turn around? Your days, your years, are they filled with sighing?
“my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones wastes away.” – How are you holding up? Do you have any strength left? Or are you feeling like you are down to the last bit of strength? Or perhaps your strength is running on empty and you are not even sure what on earth you are running on at all? Are you feeling like your bones are hitting the ground and there is nothing protecting you, that the bones and joints of your soul feel like they are rubbing against each other and hitting the ground empty? (Psalm 31:9-10)
I am leading us in this slow, reflective, and uncomfortable but real “reading” of the Bible passage so that we can bring our whole selves, our whole grief, and our whole sense of despair to this moment in the worship. I hope each of us is able to become vulnerable and bear our feelings and fears naked before God. To do this is only way to fully immerse ourselves in the reality of our lives these days and to bring ourselves to God for God to heal us.
As I read the passages over and over, the Isaiah passage jumped out at me also. I, myself, and others, might hear these words as prophetic words of hope! May we lift these next few verses up to God asking God for these things so that we might be able to say and do what prophet Isaiah lived in his life!
“4 The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens — wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” – I felt as I read these words, that God is giving me, and each of us “the tongue of a teacher” and for us not only to give ourselves the way to sustain ourselves weariness with a word, but to do this on behalf of others! We are all being taught by God, if we would listen, each morning by morning, our ears to listen to those who are teaching us and to those who we can teach.
“5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.” – The Lord God is doing something in us now, during this service, and in each morning. God has opened our ears. What we can do is not to turn away, to not be rebellious. (Isaiah 50:4-5)
Who helps us? “7 The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8 he who vindicates me is near.” As Isaiah states, let us profess that God, it is the Lord God who helps me. It is God who helps us. We will not be disgraced. We will not be put to shame. And God, who helps us, is near. “9 It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?” It is the Lord God who helps me. It is the Lord God who helps us. Amen? (Isaiah 50:7-9)
We know that we can trust God. “But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon you servant; save me in your steadfast love. (Psalm 31:14-16) So let us say “You are my God.” Asking God to save us in God’s steadfast love now.
But that’s not all. We are this morning confronted with these words: “Truly this man was God’s Son.” 54Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Matthew 27:54). When the centurion and those with him were keeping watch over Jesus as he died on the cross. They witnessed these things. They saw after Jesus breathed his last:
“51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:51-53).
After seeing all these things happen, the centurion and those who were watching were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Jesus was truly God’s son! God’s Son is who we worship. God’s Son is who came to dwell with us. God’s Son is who took up the cross. God’s Son is who reconciles us to God, God’s self. So then I ask all of us, what does this mean for us in the midst of Coronavirus? What does this mean during times of grieving? What does this mean in the midst of hopelessness?
The answer, I hope is a resounding affirmation that we can face the world, the problems we face, the disease, the illness, the frustrations, and difficulties with boldness and confidence.
During the upcoming week, during Holy Week, I hope each of us can find time to read the scripture, to meditate, to pray and to meet God every day, not just because it is the Holy Week leading up to Easter next Sunday. I pray we will have a longing in our hearts that will only be satisfied by meeting God every day because it is God who sustains us and gives us strength and hope.
In closing, I would like to share excerpts from a theological and pastoral letter written by one of my teachers, Dr. Catherine Keller. I hope this will further help us to reflect on what the present times and opportunities mean for us and help begin to answer the question, “how then shall we live?”
“Dear Ones, Particularly, in this letter, ones who claim some seriously biblical, or explicitly theological, orientation. Amidst this pandemic, ones who may be wondering….
“Is God punishing us? … Is God testing us?… Is God teaching us a lesson?… Is God fixing the world?… If no, no, no, and no — how, then? ~ How about — by creative collaboration with the creatures?
“The coronavirus is not sent as a divine punishment. But something not unrelated: in this crisis, God may well be calling us all to account, holding us responsible for the wellbeing of our world. It doesn’t mean God willed this crisis to happen — or any of the horrors and holocausts of history. It means that nothing happens apart from God, because God isn’t something that exists apart from the world: the world is a part of God, and God participates in each part of the world. God feels and suffers it all — with us. But God also calls to us to face the meaning of this punishing plague, to face the interdependence of us all — an interdependence that our civilization conceals from us, that this contagion reveals to us.”
Even as I am finishing writing this sermon, I just received sad news that a friend’s aunt passed away two days ago. The difficulty we are facing now is the reason we have to turn towards God and turn towards each other as well, to be there for each other. God sends us help through God’s word and through God’s presence and love. And if each of us will take up the calling God places on our hearts, each of us might be able to reach someone who needs God’s presence, God’s love, and God’s tender loving touch.
Let us Pray, Merciful God, your strength and courage pour forth to sustain the witness of your faithful people. Awaken in us the humility to serve wherever creation is broken and in need, that we may follow in the way of our Lord, Jesus, die as he did to all that separates us from you, and with him be raised to new life. Amen.