“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
We’ve come to a new spot it seems. A place that we’ve never been before and it invokes in us so many emotions, fear, grief, a sense of the unknown dominating our feelings as we move ahead. We are in effect living in a new land unlike the one that came before. Like so many others before us we are on a journey to what seems like a faraway place, a new normal if you will. If you look throughout our sacred texts you find a lot of that going on in their lives too. People like Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the people of Israel, the exiles who returned from Babylon, and Jesus as he “set his face towards Jerusalem.”
Some journeys take us very far, this one it seems will be a journey of just a few miles, as we only go where we absolutely have to go, this journey has nothing to do with geography for it entails a change of mindset, a new way of living and being as we wait for this journey to lead us to a new place.
A new place is nothing new to me. For the past six years I gone to many new places, from parish pastor, to a worker at Holden Village, an interim in Boise, a time of semi-retirement and then a journey of a lifetime as an interim pastor at Shishmaref Lutheran Church 22 miles from the Arctic Circle, yes it was cold and dark and then cool and light as the days unfolded. I’ve had a wandering life it seems. At each new place I had to adjust and enter into a new reality. Of course, the trip to Alaska and the incredible people of Shishmaref was the most transformative for me. I had to learn a new way of living, a new way of being. While there I kept an almost daily journal to track what I was experiencing and what I was feeling. I had to learn a new way of being a pastor among this fierce and sacred land.
When I first arrived, I already knew a Holy task awaited me. A few days before I arrived there was a death of a village elder. It meant a funeral would be waiting for me as I touched down in Shishmaref. That is never an easy task, but what I found as I engaged with these new people was an openness to who I was and a helping hand to get us all through it all. In my journal I described what it was like and now I share it with you.
“We gathered for the funeral for Johnny yesterday. The service was 4 hours long as they sang Johnny into his eternal home. My sermon was probably 12 minutes long, but then came a time of sharing. Grief here is both personal and public. It’s something to see his whole family get up and sing songs. The experience is somewhat like going to an old-style revival and a funeral. The songs tend to come from that sort of time period. While it was long it didn’t feel that way. It felt real and appropriate. The kindness of the family to me was evident. The community was fantastic, the school was dismissed so that people young and old could go to the funeral. They all came forward to greet and support the family and then had their last viewing. I stood next to the casket as this happened. You could see the deeply personal way they said goodbye. It was like a reminder of my grandma’s funeral when I saw a young grandchild just cry and cry in her pew. That was the way it was for me at that time. I remember feeling unanchored from my rock and the grace of her. What she must have been feeling yesterday was real. I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to her, but I felt connect to her as well. The committal was new for me. The family fills in the grave. They took turns, and it wasn’t long before the grave was filled.
The grief was present
In the singing, in the words
But hope was there too.”
I shared this knowing we cannot do what they did right now. We cannot gather, yet still there is hope. Our hope is found where those faithful people in Shishmaref knew it to be, in the grace of God found in Jesus. Grief doesn’t overcome hope and grace. Wherever we find ourselves on this new journey we have that companion, hope, we have that reality, the love and grace of God. This journey is going to take us to a deeper understanding of our faith. It will take some time, but like my journey to Shishmaref and beyond it will be filled with God’s hope.
Let us pray...
God of our hope. You took the Israelites on a journey to freedom, that trip was filled with difficulties and hardships. You now accompany us on this journey and it, too, is filled with hardships and heartaches. Give us the strength to continue our journey. Instill in us the hope you have promised in your son, Jesus. We remember and mourn all who have been lost and those who continue to suffer. Give strength and courage to all who serve and care for the sick. In Jesus name, Amen.