ATo the Church in Exile,
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today’s meditation is from Kyle Turver:
I am thinking of you all often and wishing I could hear your voices lifted in song together. Bethany, you are a beautiful instrument and my heart feels despair to think of you like a guitar without its strings. Our lectionary Psalm for the day gives us some language for the despair that unexpectedly swells in my heart from time to time over the last four weeks:
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.
If your process has been anything like mine, despair is one of the emotions that has become more familiar. Despair is a consuming emotion because it has no space for hope. Despair sucks all the air out of the room and leaves only misery. Even when there is reason for hope—a positive side to be considered—despair turns the world into monochrome and flavors tasteless.
A therapist friend of mine recently told me how some of his most unstable clients are the most stable through this crisis. It’s not as if they have suddenly gotten better, but not much has changed for them. He described that a number of them echo the same sentiment: “people seem to be feeling like I do all the time.”
There is something to that. Our collective processing through this event may be giving us a window into feelings that the most vulnerable among us feel often. I asked my friend what kind of advice he gives to his clients when they feel the intensity of despair. “Of course it depends,” he said. But, he went on to describe a few things we might all benefit from. First, he invites them to breathe deeply and slowly, this helps calm the fear parts of our brains. Second, he encourages them to feel all that they are feeling. The only way through is to welcome the emotions. Third, while the feelings grow and anxiety rises it’s important to continually remember that it will eventually pass.
As we move from Saturday’s texts to Sunday, we find despair passes with it. Our lectionary texts hold side by side despair and hope as we enter Holy Week.
They brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
This crowd knows despair. Under Roman occupation the people of Israel yearned for the day their Messiah would come and save them from their oppressor. A great deal of them believed Jesus was this Messiah. If there were any doubts left, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey naming himself their King as foretold in Zechariah 9:9. When he does, the crowds give him the greeting of a conqueror, laying palms and the clothes off their backs on the ground to keep down the dust. Their hope was stirred and their despair still palpable, as they shouted and danced for the Son of David who would save them.
Despair and hope follow Jesus on his journey to the cross. Frederick Buechner names this beautifully in a sermon from Palm Sunday:
“Despair and hope. They travel the road to Jerusalem together, as together they travel every road we take – despair at what in our madness we are bringing down on our own heads and hope in him who travels the road with us and for us and who is the only one of us all who is not mad. Hope in the King who approaches every human heart like a city. And it is a very great hope as hopes go and well worth all our singing and dancing and sad little palms because not even death can prevail against this King and not even the end of the world, when end it does, will be the end of him and of the mystery and majesty of his love. Blessed is he.”
Our lectionary texts and the story of Jesus itself hold side-by-side despair and hope which gives me the courage to do the same as we face this growing world crisis. To at one moment feel my eyes waste away from grief, and the next dance for the hope of salvation. Jesus rides into Jerusalem as if it were the human soul itself, and this Lent—more than ever before—I welcome him.
Blessed is he.
Director of Worship Ministries
Bethany Presbyterian Church