Grace, Grief and Voices of Hope

choir of voices

We are 5 months into this pandemic and we still don’t seem to know what is happening to us. The evidence is right before our eyes. There is the ominous daily (steady or rising) count of new cases and deaths from COVID-19. Our public health experts have given us a fairly specific set of practices to follow that could lessen the severity of our suffering significantly, but we as a society are divided as to whether to follow them. We are also conflicted about whether we can open schools safely and if so, how to do it.

This pandemic is a time of disorientation like few of us have lived through in our lifetimes. It is particularly difficult because we didn’t choose it. It swept over the world and our country so quickly we were left stunned and confused.

In times like this we don’t really know what to do or how to live. We have to learn to live in a new way every day by trying to figure it out. Our hope is that in the process we can keep in front of us our faith and values by which we have lived thus far. But is it is easy to lose touch with them in such a tumultuous time.

Perhaps our situation is not unlike the disorientation faced by the people of Israel living in exile in Babylon. Our first lesson for this coming Sunday (August 23) prompts us to remember that God held God’s people in that very bewildering time.

The people of Israel had been dragged across the desert separating them from their homeland, their temple, their faith as they knew it, indeed, perhaps their very identity. So now come the powerful words of a pastoral sermon spoken poetically to bring comfort and hope to a people on the edge of losing their hope.

“Listen to me, all you who are serious about right living and committed to seeking God… I, God, will comfort Zion, comfort all her mounds of ruins. I’ll transform her dead ground into Eden, her moonscape into the garden of God, A place filled with exuberance and laughter, thankful voices and melodic songs… My deliverance arrives on the run, my salvation right on time. I’ll bring justice to the peoples. Even faraway islands will look to me and take hope in my saving power.”
(Isaiah 51:1-6 The Message)

God is saying to the people of Israel, “When everything is falling apart and you don’t even know which way is up, remember: I’ve been here all of the time holding you in your confusion and numbness, wiping your tears as they flow, speaking softly with words of hope and encouragement, giving you glimmers of the new future I have for you. I will not forsake you; I will not leave you. Your grieving is real but I will not let you live in it forever.”

“You have a voice and I will let your voices rise again ‘with exuberance and laughter, thankful voices and melodic songs.’” And as they speak, a rush of feeling and assurance floods the people’s experience. Their voices attest to the loving God who holds them!

God is holding us in this pandemic too! No matter how confused and wavering you and I may feel about it, God is graciously reminding us that it is time to let our voice rise too. As we speak, God breaks through to us to begin revealing to us what we need to feel his grace and comfort and give us the hope we need to get to tomorrow and beyond.

Perhaps today is an opportunity to let your voice speak. If you have been too quiet lately, find a way to speak today that shows what you believe and the life you claim. If you have shouted until you are hoarse, take today to rest your voice and linger in a peaceful moment. If you are crying out, if you are whispering, if you are afraid to speak, if you’d like to sing a new song: remember God is listening and claiming you. God says, “My deliverance arrives on the run.”

Prayer...

Our God who speaks and also listens to the silence, let our voices rise today in ways that speak our cries to you and also claim authentically the persons you have created us to be. Keep holding us during this pandemic. Amen.

Keith Hammer

Keith Hammer

Retired ELCA Pastor

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