“Singing in a strange land”
The days are getting shorter, the leaves have mostly fallen off, and there is a chill in the air. Toilet paper is gone from the shelves, and those who can are topping their shopping carts, more out of fear than of need. Others are looking at the bills piling up with no end in sight, and the possibilities of getting a new job are growing scarce by the hour.
The Covid-19 pandemic relentlessly increases its toll in human lives and our “regular” flu season is beginning to make its own mark. Now, to top it off as it were, as we approach the end of the year, our Bible readings are about final accountability and the end of times!
And then, of course, next Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. How can we sing in a strange land, where one year ago seems an eternity ago? Is there any hope at all? How can we sing in a strange land?
“Come, let us sing to the Lord; let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to him with psalms,” are the traditional words of the Venite (Psalm 95:1-2). Yet how can we sing in the midst of this uncharted season that we are going through?
Those were the same words that the exiled Israelites in Babylon were asking themselves, (Psalm 137). Uprooted away from all that was familiar, absent from the center of their life, the Temple, and living as strangers in a strange land – How could they sing?
The feelings expressed in those words are so true, and in many ways, they find a chord in our hearts. How can we sing?
What sustained the people of Israel and what can sustain us as we journey through this strange land of Covid-19 is hope. Hope, not wishful thinking. Hope, not optimism. Sheer hope rooted not in what we can do by ourselves, but in what God has already done for ourselves.
Both our Old Testament lesson and the Gospel are an affirmation of such hope. In Ezekiel we are told that “The Good Shepherd of the Sheep” tell us that He is the one who goes out of his way to gather, to feed, to protect, to heal and to strengthen the sheep. Not that He “may,” or that He “would try,” or that He “will pray” for something to happen. God always means what He says and says what He means.
In Matthew’s scene of the Gathering of the Nations, we read that the “Son of Man will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be gathered, and He will say…” (Matthew 25:31-46). It is not He “may” or He “would try.” The Creator God with through the power of His word caused the universe to come into being, is speaking words of action.
St Paul, writing to his fellow Christians in Ephesus commends them for their love and their faith, praying that they may spiritual insight so that their hearts may grasp the “confident hope he has given to those He called—His holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance,” (Ephesians 1:17-18).
As children of the Most High God, brothers and sisters in the hope of redemption, hope can and will sustain our journey through the dark valley. For the hope that will inspire us to sing in this strange land of ours is a hope tightly bound to the Risen Christ. A Risen Savior that will do his work in us and through us as readily as we open our hearts to the possibilities of hope.
The artist and pastor Jan Richardson writes that, “Hope is not always comforting or comfortable. Hope asks us to open ourselves to what we do not know, to pray for illumination in this life, to imagine what is beyond our imagining, to bear what seems unbearable. It calls us to keep breathing when beloved lives have left us, to turn toward one another when we might prefer to turn away. Hope draws our eyes and hearts toward a more whole future but propels us also into the present, where Christ waits for us to work with him toward a more whole world now.”
Hope will inspire you to sing by the rivers of your own “babylons” not in sadness, but in hopeful joy. Hope will inspire you to enter the gates of your inner sanctuary with thanksgiving knowing that the Lord is good, His mercy everlasting and His faithfulness endures from age to age, (Psalm 100).
Would you sing along with me?