For over a year now we have lived with almost constant uncertainty, many of us have been isolated from familiar support networks, we couldn’t really describe it as a mystery, for the Covid-19 Virus is not a mystery, we can’t see it, but we feel its effects and we see the results of contracting it. For over a year our new bulletins have rarely been without mention of virus, pandemic, vaccine or the dreaded words “new strain”. I wonder how often our prayers have contained the words, or at least the sentiments “how long O Lord?” (Psalm 13 & Psalm 89)
There are other things of course that should draw that prayer and those words from our hearts and our lips and stir them in our minds. As we pause today on the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, I hope that we are able to give the anniversary more than a passing thought. That said, we’d be forgiven if we don’t do little more than note the date, yet still we should cry “how long O Lord?”
Today our news ( here in the UK anyway) is focused on the interview conducted by Martin Bashir with Princess Diana, and while I don’t believe he was innocent it does seem that we are in some senses both dealing with long lived grief that has appeared as deep rifts ( so we are told) within our Royal family, and an event that in many senses continues to rock our nation in the death of one so many had taken to their hearts, maybe amongst the angst of so much pain and grief and uncertainty we need someone to blame when what we should be doing is acknowledge that we have simply shifted some of the locus of our grief and pain and have been given somebody to aim at! And while I am not saying there should be no investigations, I have to ask why this is the focus of our news. Can we not reframe our comments with the cry “how long O Lord?”
There are other things to that should draw such a prayer from us, the war and tentative ceasefire between Israel and Palestine, the rise in the “need” for food banks, and so many other matters of justice, or human rights, that include not only race but rights associated with gender and sexuality, then there are matters of poverty, and the of fair sharing of wealth which require an adjustment of values for many… “how long O Lord?”
This is a very real cry, a cry of anguish, and as St Paul writes in his letter to The Romans, it is not just us but “all creation groans with us.” Just hear that, all creation groans, and he goes on to say “as in the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22). The pains of childbirth, I remember can be both overwhelming and seem to be never ending but they do ( hopefully) end well and with new life. These words “how long”, these deep groans of discomfort can and dare I say should lead us to a place where we dare to see and say that hope is possible. Not that we should ignore the pain, nor that we should not express the anguish, but we can draw from them and through them a sense that this not need to be how it is always. Our hope is that all will be, all is being made new, and as Christians invited upon the path that Jesus walked, the path of Christ, Spirit equipped and with the words “you are good ( see Genesis 1) ringing in our ears, we should be able to begin to participate in the new things to come by becoming new, by being transformed, (being saved) , as we choose that path day by day, and moment by moment.
The sad thing is, many of us struggle to participate because what we hear are not the words “you are good” but the opposite, you are not good, not good enough, indeed you are bad, rotten to the core, and this can cause us to either withdraw, putting on masks of compliance when we do dare to enter the world, or to fight, too often excluding and blaming others. I must admit at I can and do struggle with both of those, but I want to learn and am learning to walk another way. I am crying “how long”, but I cry how long with hope, for hope says that love will win, and I have to put my faith in that (see 1 Corinthians 13).
I find myself returning again to the invitation of Jesus in Matthew 11: 25-30, who despite his frustrations and his anguish both felt and expressed about those who were simply unable to see, turned first to God in prayer, and then to those surrounding him in invitation:
Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.”
Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
We are invited to participate in the unforced rhythms of grace, to be ambassadors of hope, and while we cry “how long” we can know we cry it not only with one another but with all creation and even with Jesus himself. Maybe it is a good thing that God’s timing is not ours, for so much greater glory might be revealed if we give ourselves to the waiting.