The Fifth Sunday in Lent
Readings – Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Psalm 51: 1-13; Hebrews 5: 5-10; John 12: 20-33
Our readings for today highlight the reality that faith is an affair of the heart. The proper collect for today states “… our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found”. The prophet Jeremiah, speaking for God, declared “… I will write [my covenant] on their hearts…”. The Psalmist added, “For behold, [God looks] for truth deep within me…”. Still, a faithful heart, deep within, knowing intimately God’s love can be deeply troubles. The Epistle to the Hebrews even recounted that Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears…”. John, the gospeler, wrote that Jesus said, “… my soul is troubled…”. So, we know that a troubled soul is a part of being faithful and not a mark of faithlessness.
I recently completed the book entitled, The Black Church by Louis Henry Gates. The Black Church was born in the midst of the horrors of slavery, yet grew to provide a place of peace and sanctuary. The Black Church developed during the rise of Jim Crow and matured during the great migration in the early twentieth century from the South to the North, the Midwest, and the West. When other avenues of leadership and community were closed, the Black Church provided. In its earliest days singing and memory verses provided life to the faithful heart since reading and writing were forbidden, and dangerous. In times of trouble which for many were all the time, community and singing provided temporary peace and sanctuary for the people of faith.
And I can recall in times of trouble the entire nation went to their faith communities for peace and sanctuary. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated all went to church and synagogue. When the Twin Towers in New York City were crumbled to the streets, America went to church and synagogue.
However, with the COVID pandemic brought this entire nation to its knees, that avenue to peace and sanctuary was denied. To gather in person for peace and sanctuary was life-threatening for all, and for many deadly. COVID troubling times are different for all people, and especially for people of faith who rested in community and music. Since mid-November, we have been severely challenged as people of faith here at All Saints. What have I done you may ask? I have been drawn to the words just before we traditionally sing the Sanctus — “… we praise you [God], joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing…”. When I say my nighttime prayers I pray with the angels, the archangels, and the vast array of saints, and I pray with you. In my mind’s eye, I go from pew to pew, remembering where you all sit (usually in the same spot), and remember you by name. I also include others that I remember who used to join us and who have now crossed the threshold into the next life, Ruth and Rudy, Donald, Arnold, Maggie, and Amanda. You all and others join with me as I say the prayers that I know by heart, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer. In these troubled times, I continue to pray in the community, with the community. Perhaps I might also sing a hymn or two, but I don’t.
The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday will be next week, celebrated with home communion kits in your home, and then come Easter Sunday we will gather in person with temperature taking, masking, sanitizing, and distancing. We will see our community again, and sing again (only outside in the Market Street courtyard). We will say our prayers together again. And when inside, as the organ plays Easter hymns, we will joyfully ring our bells.
AND OUR FAITHFUL HEARTS WILL REJOICE; OUR FAITHFUL HEARTS WILL REJOICE!
Will the COVID pandemic or another pandemic crisis return, we do not know, it depends on our sisters and our brothers around the world, around our nation, around our commonwealth, and around our county. My experience is that our faithful hearts have been enriched during these troubled times and that as we return to community, in-person worship, we will be further enriched for whatever the days ahead will bring. My expectation is that we will also more fully enter into our community of faith and all the richness that it provides. In troublesome times may we always know the peace, the sanctuary of God, that surpasses all our understanding.