Daily Lenten Devotional – March 21-22, 2020

March 21-22, 2020

To the Church in Exile,

Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today’s meditation is from Marisa Gronholz: 

As a little girl, I was a bit superstitious—especially when it came to God. In my desperation to hear from God, to experience God, to know God, coupled with my early adolescent impatience, I went looking for signs. Tests. “God, if you are real, then show me. Oh, and I’ll tell you how. If you are real, then ______________” and I would fill in the blank with the most ludicrous thing like, ”make this basket,” as I was shooting hoops in my driveway, or “it will stop raining” during a Midwest thunderstorm, and other equally ridiculous requests.

I often brought that same superstition to the Bible. Again, in my desperation to hear something specific and personal from this God I couldn’t see, couldn’t quite understand, I would let the Bible fall open to whatever page and see what “message” was there for me. You can only imagine what would happen when the Bible would fall open to one of the weirder passages of Levitical law, or one of the multi-page genealogies. And then, of course, sometimes I thought it “worked.” I would read something that felt “just for me” on that particular day.

While I’d like to think that a whole lot of life and a seminary degree have matured me out of that way of thinking…the temptation is still there. Particularly in times like these—when I am scared, insecure, uncertain. Every day things pop in my inbox from a website for church leaders where some pastor is attempting to explain why God is allowing this to happen. There is still the temptation to believe that, as theologian and author, Kate Bowler, refers to in the title of her book: “Everything Happens for a Reason…” because it makes us feel so much better. The subtitle of that book is, “…..and other lies I’ve loved.” We love the lie that we can know, that if only we work hard enough, flip to the right page of the Bible on the right day, that we will “get it” and can explain everything.

The lectionary texts for today brought my little superstitious self out in the open. There was a line in the second morning psalm (Psalm 149) that encouraged the faithful to “…sing for joy on their couches.” It is a sign!

Then, the gospel text was all about how the disciples did not wash their hands!!! Oh boy….I was not even going to touch that! Here’s my brief exegesis of that text: That was a totally different situation. Wash your hands with hot soapy water for 20 seconds before and after you do anything. Amen.

What struck me about the lectionary texts from today was not a magic word that would explain or give a reason; or be just for us, just for today as if all of the texts on all of the other days don’t matter. What struck me today is what I find in all of the Psalms – the invitation to be real. To tell the truth. The Psalms for today invite us to tell the truth about who God is, who we are, and how we are feeling. We are invited to name it all.

Psalm 149 invites us to praise God in a variety of ways and from a variety of places—yes…even couches!
1   Praise the Lord!
     Sing to the Lord a new song,
          his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
2   Let Israel be glad in its Maker;
          let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.
3   Let them praise his name with dancing,
          making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.
4   For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
          he adorns the humble with victory.
5   Let the faithful exult in glory;
          let them sing for joy on their couches.

Some mornings have felt like this. I wake up ready, energized, positive about who God is, where God will work, how I will show up and allow God to use me in different ways over phone calls and e-mails, group chats, and Zoom meetings. The “assembly of the faithful” is present—even over Zoom. I play the piano, I sing. But some mornings, I wake up with a broken heart. I remember all of the stories I heard the day before. Stories from our ministry partners as they struggle to keep doors open and families afloat, the story of my friend’s mom who is being given a 50/50 chance as her body fights this virus. I wake up angry at my normally beloved sunshine because it will mean more people crammed together at Seattle parks instead of inside of their homes. I dread having to tell my teenagers 20 times that day that they can’t hang out in person with friends.

I’m grateful that the lectionary provides an alternative for those mornings in Psalm 31:
1   Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
          against an ungodly people;
     from those who are deceitful and unjust
          deliver me!
2   For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
          why have you cast me off?
     Why must I walk about mournfully
          because of the oppression of the enemy? …
 5   Why are you cast down, O my soul,
          and why are you disquieted within me?
     Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
          my help and my God.

These are real words for a dark season of the soul for the Psalmist. But even in the midst of the darkness, the Psalmist reminds us that not all moments of all days are dark. There will be a new day, a day of hope, not that comes from immature superstition and tests of God, but from a heart that is honest before God.
LORD, take away all tendency toward trite explanations, superstition and our desire and need to make sense of this. Instead, give us honest hearts and honest words so that we can make room for Hope–hope that even in the midst of our darkest hours, we will again praise you. Be with all of those who are without hope right now. Surround them with your love, peace, grace, and presence.  Amen.

Peace in Christ,

Marisa Gronholz, Director of Outreach Ministries
Bethany Presbyterian Church