Yesterday was the second Sunday after Pentecost and the lectionary readings for this week are Genesis 21:8-21, Psalm 69:7-10 (11-15), 16-18, Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17, Jeremiah 20:7-13, Matthew 10:24-39, Romans 6:1b-11.
It is strange that those who choose the Scripture passages for the lectionary would choose these verses so soon after the church celebrates the life transforming event of Pentecost. Throughout the readings for this week there are certain thoughts that occur repeatedly.
“…she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.” Gen. 20:16
“Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink…Answer me Lord, out of the goodness of your love…” Ps. 69: 14, 16
“Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy…” Ps. 86:1
“Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?” Jer. 20:18
There are days or seasons when anyone of us could be praying these prayers of desperations, when the darkness is overwhelming and we wonder if the confusion, the pain or the sense of loss will ever end. These are also the thoughts and unspoken prayers of so many of the Syrian refugees whom we encounter.
We live in the “in-between times”, when the Kingdom of God has come but not yet manifested in all its fullness, when the reality of evil is still only too real. So many days feel like the darkness and disillusionment of the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
I have lately been reading Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall (The Cross in our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World) and American theologian Alan E. Lewis (Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday). Alan Lewis brings poignancy to his writing as he lost his battle with cancer while writing about living in Holy Saturday and not experiencing the reality of Easter Sunday and the healing promised in the Kingdom of God. He died believing in the promise of the resurrection and that he would experience life again as never before.
On that first Good Friday the disciples had no knowledge that there was going to be an Easter Sunday. Their teacher, whom they had come to know as the Lord, had died on the cross. With His death, their dreams and hopes of a better world and the coming of the Kingdom shattered. It is only later that they understood the meaning of the Cross as being the means of redemption and forgiveness of sins. They were desolate and mourning that first Saturday after Good Friday. It is only in this context that the completely unexpected, stunning, and unbelievable experience of the resurrection for the disciples on Sunday morning can be understood.
This week’s readings remind us again that so much of life is lived in the Saturdays of the salvation narrative, when dream, hopes and parts of our being may have died. However, unlike the disciples on that first Saturday who felt abandoned, God identifies Himself in Christ as being with us (Immanuel) and says that He will never leave us or forsake us. The people we minister to – the poor, the refugees, the migrant workers, the abandoned women and children – understand the Good News as the fact that God cares about their lives. The Good News that Christ has conquered sin and death and offers forgiveness and that they need to repent, has little meaning for them, when in fact they feel that they have been sinned against and experience the full brunt of evil in society. I am often ashamed that I have forgotten how life giving the reality of the presence of Christ is when I see the desperate refugees who have experienced unspeakable horrors, hear about a God of who cares for them and hears their prayers through Christ. The transformation and awe is so visible in their faces and when they speak about the God they have encountered.
It is only as they experience this reality of God’s presence and caring, do they begin to dream and hope again. Unlike the disciples who did not know that there would be an Easter Sunday, we know that there is a future because of the resurrection. The promises of Easter Sunday for new life and a new beginning come into focus, that one day in the social, economic and political order of society there will be justice and peace – the promise of the Kingdom of God. They look forward to the day when, “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Rev. 11:15)
The readings this week don’t end with the sense of desolation that the Saturday of the salvation narrative speaks so eloquently about through its silence. In every instance there is a resurrection, with God reappearing. By that simple act He affirms the worth of each individual to Him.
“God heard the boy crying…” Gen 21:17
“The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people.” Ps. 69:33
“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” Ps. 86: 15
“He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.” Jer. 20: 13b
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matt. 10:29-31
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Rom. 6:4