As I reviewed the readings for this week one theme rang out, accompanied by a visceral image of robed people crossing a field at dusk toward a church that glows.
A wondering of mine is how to find the right words to convince people to be true disciples of Jesus, to undertake a painful and transformational journey. Our lectionary this week gives some examples.
1 Samuel 1:4-20
Hannah’s son, Samuel, will be the prophet who anoints the kings of Israel, born into a time of chaos and despair. It is interesting to point out how often a woman is responsible for the people that will upend entire worlds and systems, it is the women who beg, plead, cajole, are shocked, and who consent. Thank God for the matriarchs and the church ladies.
Hannah draws near to God and pours out her heart, her faithfulness is astounding. She believes that God hears her and cares for her and in this story God does. But the story is about more than a woman who is barren receiving a miracle pregnancy. Lord knows that many women have come to God and poured out their souls, grappled with their desire to be a mother up against the unwillingness of their bodies, hoped for that same miracle – and did not receive it. This story is instead about the ways that God makes abundance in scarcity, the ways that God hears and cares for us, and was and is with us, even when our prayers aren’t answered in the ways that we had hoped. Though Hannah was a faithful woman, though this story tells us that her prayers were heard, let us avoid the temptation to ever suggest that a woman who has not had her prayers answered is unworthy somehow, or not faithful enough, because the larger point is that Hannah knew God cared for her and showed that in the very act of praying.
We are also presented with a rather inept Eli, accusing Hannah of being drunk, and belatedly offering a blessing, such a strange thing that maybe it could have been left out of this story.
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
The writer of Hebrews writes to a church that is tired. And probably confused, distracted by all of the distractions of their time. We can totally relate, even if the distractions that church faced are different from the ones that our people (and us?) face. Sundays off for traveling sports, to just sleep in, for work or travel. I confess that I didn’t grow up in a tradition where anyone missed church, my parents would locate a church for us to attend even on vacation. So at times I get a little uppity (Lord, forgive me) with people who do not prioritize church.
The Hebrews verses are explaining how important coming together is, they are explaining how to make church, how to create disciples, how to be people of God. And being together is a priority, testifying to one another, mapping for each other the places that we have encountered God is important to our spiritual growth and to the growth of our communities.
Many of us will have heard last Sunday, “see I am making all things new”. Jesus foretells in this “little apocalypse” which is also his longest speech in the Gospel of Mark, the end of all things. Really he is talking about the ruin of the temple, but also about what the ushering in of the kingdom of God will look like. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom – we are well acquainted with apocalyptic writings thanks to The Walking Dead, The Hunger Games, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, even The Lord of the Rings.
I don’t think I am alone in expressing the fear I felt in March of 2020, as the world that we knew ground to a halt. I wondered if this was the final event, if this was the beginning of the end. And unfortunately I’m not sure I thought very far beyond how this would touch my own family, how I would keep my own people safe. Books like The Hunger Games , The Parable of the Sower, and The Lord of Rings, epic series like The Walking Dead (based of course on a series of graphic novels) mirror somehow the hope that Jesus gives as he speaks in Mark. Yes, it will be awful, yes, we stand to lose everything, yes, it will be terrifying, but it will also be the opportunity to, as a community, walk toward the kingdom God is building. As a devoted Walking Dead fan I can tell you that it isn’t about the zombies, it is about the will of a people to preserve and find again their own humanity, to build community even at the very end of the world.
We did this! We zoomed and learned use Streamyard and FB Live and Youtube. We worked together and came together as community even when we couldn’t be together in person. We have already shown ourselves how important our gathering is.
The words of Jesus are scary, and they always bring a tear to my eye, but there is good news too. In community we can overcome and live through the birth pangs of the God’s new world, a world that we are invited to be part of through the grace of Jesus Christ.
What all of this tells us is that we belong together, none of can do this thing on our own, there isn’t such a thing as only individual spirituality. The Book of Common Prayer has Eucharistic Prayer D, where we are called to the table not just for solace but also for strength. Sometimes we are the inept Eli, the clergy who says the wrong thing, who doesn’t provide what was needed, who make a mistake. Sometimes we are the priests offering sacrifices for our people, believing we make a bigger difference than we actually do, and forgetting that Jesus is already the high priest, Jesus has already effected our salvation, has already saved the people we love and serve. We can handle the end of all things, as long we are together.
Alicia Hager resides in West Michigan and is a Postulant to the Sacred Order of Priests in the Episcopal Church. Alicia enjoys spending time with her daughters and her husband, is bonkers about her cats, and blogs at astrawberrypointe.wordpress.com.
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