UPDATE: After this column was posted, another mass murder/hate crime took place in the USA. How are you addressing this violence against people of Asian descent in your worshipping communities? Perhaps this Sunday it would be appropriate to include an extended litany of lament and confession, based on Psalm 51.
ADDITIONALLY: this week, leadership at the Vatican doubled down on their stance against LGBTQ+ Christians and their families. Likely, very few readers of this blog are preaching in Roman Catholic settings. But, this is an important development in the Church universal this week. How does your congregation welcome all children of God? What message of acceptance to you plan to offer for those folks who might be trying out your community as an alternative to the Catholic church at which they no longer feel welcome?
As we grow ever closer to Holy Week, and as the end of a global pandemic is in sight for much of the world, this week’s reading from Jeremiah includes a promise from God for a new covenant. After “those days” – after the current crisis, after the season of deprivation, after the exile – once this trial is over, God offers hope for reconciliation and unity.
Reflections of this promised future echo as people share stories of COVID survival. Helping neighbors, celebrating frontline workers, filling in for one another when in-person interactions are impossible… this past year has brought many stories of unity and reconciliation. Of course, there are just as many stories of division and discord. But God promises that more of the uplifting stories are to come, as the whole human family draws closer to God and to one another. What examples of this hopeful future can you share from within your own community? Please comment below, as I’m sure we could all use some good news!
This Sunday also begins the Psalm 51 season for some of us, who will hear these penitent verses several times over the next two weeks. Are you one who loves the traditional words of this Psalm? Or are you looking for something new, using an alternative this year, or perhaps writing your own penitential verses for your community? This might be a good week to invite congregation members to share a line or two about their understanding of God’s forgiveness, and then compile a community psalm for use in confession in the future.
The Hebrews reading references the mysterious priesthood of Melchizedek. Mostly what we know about this order of priesthood is that we don’t know much about it. Melchizedek was the first priest named in Scripture, and provides an alternative priesthood to that of Aaron (to whom Jesus could not trace his lineage). Roman Catholic priests today are still ordained into the order of Melchizedek. But does this grant certain privileges, or require specific devotion, or imply specific authority of the priest? We’re not really sure. A few decent references to the priesthood of Melchizedek are easily findable online.
Of course, this week’s Gospel contains the low-hanging fruit and profound testimony “we wish to see Jesus.” Do our community members really want to see Jesus? Do we, as preachers, truly desire to see Jesus, or is the thought a little frightening? John’s Jesus comes across as somewhat aloof, but he also reiterates the promise we heard earlier in Jeremiah: all people will be drawn together in faithfulness to God.
Please share your reflections on this week’s Revised Common Lectionary texts, or any questions or ideas that might be meaningful to others. Blessings to you in this complicated liturgical season.
Katya Ouchakof is a hospital chaplain in Madison, WI (USA). She also works at a local paddlesports shop, which just hosted its largest event of the year, online for the first time! She’s ready to get off the computer and on to the water, as soon as weather permits.
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