The psalm for today is Psalm 22, whose first verse Jesus cries out from the cross. The despair mirrors the despair of Job, who in todays reading (Job 23:1-9, 16-17) laments that he cannot find God. In spite of his prayer, God’s hand is “heavy”. Prayer is not a magic spell, and the prayer of lament is a frequent form. Job and the psalmist have been abandoned, they think, by God. While Job is absorbed in God’s absence, the psalmist complains loudly, and notes that his enemies “laugh me to scorn”, because he trusted in God and God has abandoned him. His fate, he suggests, makes God look bad. This is not quite the feeling of “Why me?” that all of us have felt at one time or another when something terrible happens: these writers don’t understand why God isn’t there for them.
The dark night of the soul is a common experience in the lives of mystics, saints, and many people of faith: a feeling of being alone, being abandoned by God. It leads to doubt and fear. God isn’t there. Here’s the thing: they don’t stop talking to God. Job doesn’t stop, the psalmist didn’t stop. Mother Teresa spent 50 years worrying that God had rejected her, but she continued her ministry. Somehow they (and many others through the centuries) kept going because that seemed right. This is truly faith. Because of this, it’s too bad that the lectionary doesn’t include the last two verses of Psalm 22:
21 I will declare your Name to my brethren;
In the midst of the congregation I will praise you
According to Hebrews 1:3, Christ is “the exact imprint of God’s very being”. In our Baptismal covenant, we are asked if we promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself”. Since we recently celebrated a baptism, I made connections between these readings. If Christ is the exact imprint of God, and we seek Christ in all persons, who or what are we looking for? What is the “imprint of God’s very being” that we can see not just in Jesus, but implicitly, in everyone we meet? This exact imprint obviously isn’t the old man with a beard from Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine chapel: we meet plenty of people who don’t look like that! So the “exact imprint” is not physical; it’s about how we are in the world. And the Hebrew scriptures together give us an astonishing range of images of God: creative, disappointed, angry, judgmental, generous, kind, and merciful (to name a few). God looks very much like us. So maybe we don’t have to do anything special to be in the image of God. But there’s more: after God is angry (say, the flood), he is merciful. The world continues. This doesn’t help with our image of God if we want a physical image, but it does help us build an image of the living God.
“Pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
Reading this in September 2021, after 18 months of COVID-19, made us think today about what we’re praying for when we pray. We have seen plenty of evidence that we can’t pray ourselves out of a pandemic, or to heal from a virus. But still we pray. We offer to pray for friends and even strangers who suffer illness or loss. We pray for ourselves and our loved ones, for peace and wisdom, on a regular basis. We pray for our worshiping community. We pray for refugees and migrants, for the hungry, the sick, and those who care for them. We pray for our nation and the world. It’s not magical thinking: we haven’t ended hunger or illness; there are still refugees and migrants. Instead, in doing so we are connected, to God and to each other. When we pray we are not alone, and those we pray for and with are not alone. We know that God is with us, present in the world.
For Pentecost, we are delighted to welcome Rev. Linda Huggard. A California native, Rev. Huggard has served in the Diocese of San Joaquin for 10 years, and has recently retired as Priest in Charge of St. Michael’s, Ridgecrest. She is currently serving as a supply priest in the diocese. She lives in Elk Grove.
The season after Easter is one where we are constantly asked to think about what it means to live after the Resurrection. What does it mean to how we live? The lessons keeps reminding us that the disciples were as puzzled as we are at times: rushing off to meet Jesus, or terrified by his presence.
A few weeks ago, the Pilgrimage of Hope came through Merced. We’d worked to organize a good pot-luck supper, and homes for the walkers. What struck me most watching the walkers take off in the morning was the prosaic nature of pilgrimage. They were just walking. Nothing fancy, one foot in front of the other. It is probably not accidental that pilgrimage and journey are among the common metaphors for our lives as Christians. Pilgrimages and journeys have destinations. And, because we live after the Resurrection, we know that Jesus is always with us on the road. Sometimes, as on the road to Emmaus, we don’t recognize him. But the promise is that he is there.
On Easter Sunday, we welcome Rev. Tim Vivian, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at CSU Bakersfield. Tim hold both a Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara (an interdisciplinary degree in History, Classics, and Religious Studies) and an M.Div. from Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP). From 2008, Tim served as Vicar of Grace Episcopal Church in Bakersfield, which (after the return of the property) became St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. As a scholar, Tim’s field of research is early Christianity, especially early Christian monasticism from the 4th-6th centuries. He’s published numerous books and articles on the subject and now writes for a broader audience to show how valuable monastic spirituality can be for our own lives; many of his articles are online, and the books are on Amazon.
Tim is partially retired, so in addition to teaching two courses a term, he reads, writes, gardens, and naps.
I’m writing this in the middle of Lent, a time when we turn our focus inward to our relationship with God. Lent is a time of reflection, a time to clear some of the clutter out of our lives, whether in the form of stuff or thoughts. The point is not giving up chocolate (or whatever else) but figuring out what distracts us from paying attention to where God calls us in the world.