God, tender and just, gather us in Spirit when we cannot be gathered in the flesh. Minister to hearts weary of too much constriction, console those whose burden of grief is heavy to bear, comfort – make strong – our bodies and our spirits that we may do more than survive these days. Make our lives a witness to the power of endurance in times of challenge. And we will praise you. We will never stop praising you. Amen.
Reflection: Bearing all things
This morning we meet up with the freed Hebrew slaves as they are camped at the foot of the mountain, having fled their Egyptian captors and travelled through the wilderness. God speaks, through Moses, telling the people to take note of what has happened that has brought them there: How God has borne them on eagles’ wings to bring them to safety. God doesn’t rehearse the plagues, the blood, the drowned chariots. Instead God points to the future and says: Now, keep my covenant. Stay close. And you will be a holy nation. And the people say: We will (Exodus 19:2-8a).
What the people don’t know is that there will be more difficulties ahead. There will be years of camping in the wilderness. There will be hunger and thirst and conflict. There will be moments when they will long for the fleshpots of Egypt and the secure predictability of slavery. God is giving them what they need to survive all the unknowns ahead: Stay close; keep the covenant. You will be my people; and I will be your God.
More than 1000 years later, Paul will write to the church in Rome from a similar place of need: suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:3b-5).
Over two thousand years later, we read the ancient words and know that we are being instructed on how to bear the difficulties of the current times. Cling to God. Keep the covenant (do the right thing). Tap into the great river of love that is God. Things may indeed get worse. But endure and let that great river sculpt our character. Hope will not disappoint.
It sounds so simple yet we know it is not. Or perhaps it is simple but not easy. To keep our eyes fixed on the good and our hearts open to the real. We are living through a hard time. Some of the things that most helped us to stay close to God are not available to us. Like gathering on a Sunday morning for worship and fellowship. We now know how precious that was. Handshakes and hugs and whispered words of care and concern. A living Word opened to us. The whoosh of breath and joy that comes with singing our praise. The silent gaze of God holding us together in love. We grieve the loss, not knowing when or how we will be able to gather again. Still, we are instructed: Stay close. Do whatever you can to stay close.
Our lives have been pared down. Stripped of some of the things we value most, but also of unimportant things, things that perhaps got in the way of staying close. With fewer things and more time, with the taste of deprivation and of fear in our mouths, we are thrown back to basics. To thinking about what is essential. How we will live. What we will do with our one precious life. Our vision is being clarified. Can we hold onto it, as life begins to return to a semblance of normality? Can we live into the future with intention, staying close, keeping the covenant, learning from this time? Can we keep our lives pared down, our hands empty enough to catch the grace that rises up when we know our dependence is on God, not things?
Jesus sent his disciples out into cities and towns with empty hands…instructing them to take no money, no rucksack, no staff (Matthew 10:9-10). They moved by an inner compass and the winds of the Spirit, never knowing what they would meet but knowing that they were not on their own. They travelled with peace in their hearts. Others breathed it in (though some shunned it – some always shun it). They were given the means to live and words to say. They lived in radical dependence on God. A dependence that enabled them to bear all things.
We hear bear all things and another of Paul’s letters comes to mind: 1 Corinthian 13:7. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
I pray that through these challenging times, the love and the grace that bear and endure all things will be our close companions. They will be … if we stay close.
Hymn Come down, O Love Divine R&S 294 (adapted)
Recording by the Virtual Church Choir
Come down, O Love Divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
O let it freely burn,
til earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight
and clothe me round, the while my path illumining.
Let holy charity
mine outward vesture be,
and lowliness become mine inner clothing;
true lowliness of heart,
which takes the humbler part,
o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
And so the yearning strong
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess its grace,
til they become the place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes her dwelling.
May the face of God shine upon you.
May the love of God dwell within you.
May the hope of God live beyond you.