To the Church in Exile,
The peace of Christ be with you. There are five or six daily lectionary passages assigned for each day of the week. I was very much drawn to Mark 6:13-29, but could not skip over Psalm 34. Psalm 34 is almost like a collection of single phrases that speak all by themselves. I once spent an entire month praying through the psalm with a focus on just one phrase each day. Here are a few verses:
8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
9 O fear the LORD, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
There is this theme of God as our food in both verses 8 and 10. God is our sustenance and nourishment. Taste and see that the Lord is good. I like verse 10 in the MESSAGE translation: Young lions on the prowl get hungry, but God-seekers are full of God. Can we remember to taste the good food of God, to be full of God in this strange time? What does it mean to be filled with God so that we are overflowing with God’s abundance?
Sandwiched between verses 8 & 10 is a different kind of reliance on God: fear. I was dipping into a Eugene Peterson book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, where he talks about the fear of the Lord. And he said that Fear of the Lord is fear with the scary stuff knocked out of it. That in the Bible, fear of the Lord is what corresponds to the Biblical command “Fear Not” or what Mary and the shepherds heard “Be not afraid.” You’re not scared anymore, but it’s clear you’re not in control either. Something is going on that is beyond your understanding. The psalmist then brings out that when we fear the Lord, we have no want.
These verses are almost proverbial, well-crafted gems to savor all day. But none grabs me more today than verse 18: The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in Spirit. I talked last Sunday in my homily of the uncertainty of this time in Seattle and our country. But part of what we are all feeling is loss. I’m thinking of the college graduates who will never “walk” for graduation, the weddings being postponed, an Easter without the singing of the Hallelujah chorus in our sanctuary, the good-byes for retirees that cannot happen in person, adult children who cannot visit their aging parents in their assisted-living housing, the loss of touch and personal contact for all of us, and, of course, the broken hearts of those whose loved one has died.
I keep thinking that when COVID-19 no longer grips King County or America, that we will just go back to normal. But I don’t think that way anymore. Nicholas Wolterstorff, in his book Lament for a Son, wrote this after his twenty-two-year-old son died:
Something is over. In the deepest levels of my existence something is finished, done. My life is divided into before and after. A friend of ours whose husband died said it meant for her that her youth was over. My youth was already over. But I know what she meant. Something is over.
Something, indeed, is over. And when I acknowledge this loss, when I name my own crushed spirit, when I grieve, however I do that and however you do that grieving, I and you begin to know the reality of verse 18, that our God, the Lord, is near to our broken hearts.
And when we claim our wounds, we become better healers for the wounded around us. We, in fact, become open to the sun rising on the horizon. I don’t want us to go back to “normal” when this is over. I don’t want us Seattleites to return to our little cubicles of self-sufficiency. (Someone told me yesterday that people are actually saying “hi” to each other on Queen Anne Avenue.) I hope in this Good Friday season that we could let die all that is not of God’s Reign and open ourselves to the new that God is doing. I remember what Nietzsche said, “Only where graves are is there resurrection.” … Yet before I get lost in hope, I need to name this loss and receive from our God who is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
God of abundance, feed us with your nourishing food. Teach us to fear nothing but the fear of losing you. Be near to our shattered hearts and heal our crushed spirits as we trust our futures to you who loves us and your world so much. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
Peace in Christ,
(206) 284-2222, x11