Sermon by the Rev. Abby VanderBrug for Sunday, March 29, 2020.
It is Lent, you know this. How could you not? The whole world knows this right now, maybe more than we have ever known this.
I am not one for giving things up in Lent, my own personal belief about this is that we already have some experience of what it means to live without enough – whether it’s love, or success, or worth, or drugs — we get what it means to hunger for something on some pretty deep levels. But this year it feels rather forced upon us, no matter if we choose to partake or not. Maybe you had planned to give something up, but surely you did not plan to give all this up. How could you? Who could have even imagined?
My list of things I have given up in Lent includes: The familiarity of a routine, the security of knowing what to do on a Tuesday at 3pm, the warmth of a hug from a child, a leisurely stroll through a grocery store, getting my hair cut, my office, a piece of bread shared with at an altar, a time when I didn’t feel like riding public transit was a threat to your life, an in-person meeting, the gym, a Friday happy hour with a friend at restaurant, reading a headline that was not about Corona-Virus. Not being worried if there will be enough toilet paper.
Your list might look rather similar, a list of things that you used to enjoy, but now are now settling into a rather different reality. And it all seemed to be taken away from us at a rather drastic and unforeseen pace. And let’s not forget the Lenten imagery in the ery stillness of Putnam ave and the locks on our most holy spaces. It all feels very Lenten.
We are going without, not knowing when the end will come, watching the news and saying “how long, Oh Lord?,” But it’s not only the news stories, it’s the stories from those we love full of anxiety, fear, and the unknown. It’s the stories of jobs lost, loved ones struggling, and even our closest people physically separated from us in this desperate time. Cancelled plans, broken hearts, dreams left in a lurch. It’s all very Lenten.
The Old Testament reading for this Sunday – The Valley of the dry bones – was written for a people in exactly a time like this. The people of Israel had been removed from their land, taken away from their temple, the world flipped upside down and inside out, left wondering where do we go from here? How could this happen to us? How could this be our story?
As you know, we are an Easter people. It is the pinnacle of our faith, our firmest foundation, our rock, and part of being an Easter people means that we sit in the darkness, not just the shiny-ness of the light. We feel the terribleness of the world, we say to God “how could this possibly be?” Think of Martha and Mary weeping at the death of their beloved brother. Think of the people of Israel, desperate to return to their homeland. Think of so many people who know what it is to suffer, to be lonely, to struggle and weep at the reality of our messy lives. This is part of it, part of the Easter story.
But also part of being an Easter people is that we have a God who reaches into the tombs of the earth, into death, and murk and heartbreak and says, yes, even this I can make new. Yes, even your driest bones I can breathe life back into.
And so in these few moments of Lent, as we stand on the verge of Holy Week, may you hear the cry. May you feel the depth of suffering of our world. May you lean into the heartbreak with a heart broken open.
I’d like to share with you a poem my Maggie Smith, which I think wraps up so beautifully the reality of our common human life and all its complexities in this time. It is entitled Good Bones.
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
Dear friends, may you hold each other tenderly through this. May you feel God’s arms wrapped tightly around our world. And may we join hands together through the Lenten desert. I’ll go with you if you go with me.