Monday, March 31, 2014

despair and hope--a reflection for April 6

(published in the Abingdon 2014 Creative Preaching Annual)

Psalm 130, John 11

One year during Lent, we reversed the Advent candle tradition—at every worship service during Lent we blew out a candle, until the last was extinguished at the end of the Good Friday service. Though the days lengthened outside the sanctuary, inside the darkness was growing as we took this journey through wilderness, despair, and dark valleys. By the end of the season, we longed for the light of resurrection. We had learned to trust God in the wilderness and to be honest about our distress.

Mary and Martha have learned this lesson well. The disciples may be a little dense, but Mary and Martha are honest. Their tears fall even as they say “If you had been here, things would have been different.” They don’t hold back their grief, their disappointment, their dashed hope.

How often, when we walk into the valley of the shadow of death, do we find that God seems to have left us there alone? It sometimes seems as if God has a penchant for disappearing or for hiding just when we most need to know God’s presence. We call into the darkness and get only darkness in return, and so often we give up. We stop talking to God, perhaps afraid that we shouldn’t be angry or sad or despairing or lonely, perhaps tired of receiving no answer.

Mary and Martha knew this isolation and disappointment. They called out to Jesus, and Jesus intentionally held back. But when he did show up, they weren’t shy about sharing their feelings. They already knew something we learn over and over again: God can take it. We can rail, shout, cry, and be real, because not only can God hold all of that, God rails, shouts, and cries right along with us.

It seems improper somehow, but throughout Scripture we see God’s people expressing the full range of emotions—from joy to despair and everything in between. The Psalmist even offers us words when our own fail. “Out of the deep I call to you—hear my voice!” The darkness deepens, there’s no way out…Where are you? The candles are going out, one by one, and I feel alone…and “my whole being hopes for the Lord” (v.5, CEB). Not just my sad self, not just my intellectual capacity, not just for the kids, but my whole being.

Sometimes it seems too soon to make that move. It can feel jarring, as in a piece of music that seems so dark and then moves to a brighter major key (for example, Rutter’s setting of Psalm 130 in his Requiem). But even Rutter moves back and forth between darkness and light, between cello and oboe, between lower and higher voices. We know that feeling—the vacillation between despair and hope, the Mary and Martha experience of “if you had been here” mingled with “I believe.” In many ways, this is Christian life: to hope even in the dark valley, knowing that life is indeed possible, and stronger than the darkness.

No comments:

Post a Comment