Because of the limitations presented by our necessary response to COVID-19, we’re hosting worship online. Recording the elements for it over this past week, we offer a worship video which you can watch by clicking here. It includes prayers, a brief version of the reflection for this week, and some wonderful music, performed by our own Paul Toner. There’s also a short video for children which you can watch by clicking here.
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection based on the scripture for this week, as well as Steve’s pastoral prayers. These will also be posted on our Facebook page. Our weekly e-newsletter will continue to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening at St. Paul’s. If you don’t currently receive that, and would like to, please contact us and we’ll happily add you to our mailing list.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Lent 4: Trust, in Uncertain Times
Scripture: Psalm 23
Music: Prayer of St. Patrick, The Mary Ellen Carter (Paul Toner)
Since I was twelve, when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, just going out for a walk, or a hike, or going canoeing or swimming, required that I take juice and a snack in case of a low blood sugar. After so many years, it’s second nature to me, but sometimes it feels like a sort of shadow. It doesn’t weigh anything, but it’s always with me. Most of the time, that doesn’t bother me, but there are days when it shapes how I think and feel. There are days when I feel frustrated (and sometimes, even, resentful) that I’ll never be without it.
For the past ten years, however, how I handle my chronic illness has taken on a new importance. I’m not simply living with my condition, but demonstrating for my children how to live with illness. It’s good for them to see that I take care of myself, and it’s good for them to see that I occasionally get frustrated.
I’ve also shared with them that, when I was diagnosed, my mother learned how to prepare meals that would keep me healthy and that, while i was learning to take care of myself, my father came with me on Scout hikes and camps so I wouldn’t have to miss out. I share with them how my sister, their aunt, who is a doctor, keeps me up to date on developments in research and the treatment of diabetes.
And, God bless her, they see each day how Jenny, their mother, is supportive, positive and patient with respect to my health (and personality!). In short, it’s good for them to know that I don’t deal with diabetes on my own, and that that is how, in the face of uncertainty and sometimes even fear, I enjoy a fullness of life and love.
You’ve probably already guessed why I’m sharing this with you today. As we face the COVID-19 virus here and around the globe, we are all, for a time, living with the same shadow. The virus, yes, but also the uncertainty of what’s happening and what is yet to come. There is an eerie feeling on the normally bustling streets in town, now quiet. Businesses are empty, buildings are closed, the school yards next to the church are silent. It’s also strange to spend so much time at home, or rather, so much time apart from the people we love.
Maybe you’re not thinking about viruses or social isolation all the time, but that shadow is still there when you put down your book, hang up the phone, or come in from your walk. So, I’ve been wondering this week: how are you coping with the shadow? How do we deal with this looming uncertainty? What do we remember, in the face of uncertainty and fear, in order to continue to live?
There are a few things I noticed about today’s scripture, Psalm 23, which was probably shared first as a song. I noticed that it’s pervaded by the language of time. Most of the words are sung in the present tense: “The Lord is my shepherd… He leads me… You prepare a table.” The singer feels certain that God is present, and that certainty is sung with a voice of experience: the experience of God’s presence in the midst of agitation, confusion, and anxiety. The singer has felt invited to green pastures – to “set a spell”, to rest from weariness.
Because of the presence of God’s love in the midst of trial, the singer believes, knows, is reassured that God is present even now, in the midst present trouble.
I also noticed that this assurance extends into the future. The singer lifts up with joy the words, “I shall.” “Surely mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord, my whole life long.” Even while admitting the reality of dark valleys and the spectre – the shadow – of death, this is not a song of lament, but a song of assurance; courage, even. Perhaps that’s why Psalm 23 is, for many people of faith, like a mantra, a comforting, repeated prayer, that can help open the mind and heart to God’s presence.
The Way of a Pilgrim is the English title of a 19th-century Russian work, recounting an anonymous narrator’s journey through what is now Ukraine, Russia and Siberia, during which he relies solely on the hospitality of others. It’s not clear whether the book is fictional or literal, but the purpose of it seems to be to teach the practice of ceaseless prayer, whatever our journey. The prayer the pilgrim recites during his entire journey is, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” He says it repeatedly, inwardly and outwardly, inhaling “Lord Jesus Christ,” and exhaling, “have mercy on me.”
The language of lordship is unusual to our ears. It carries with it the implications of class, control and empire. It’s good to question how these have played a role in the history of the church and in systems of power. However, when we say that Jesus is Lord, we are not only challenging systems of power, we are also saying something that is risky, and therefore courageous, to say: that there is much in our lives, if not all of life, that is beyond our control.
This is what we are discovering in a dramatic way during this pandemic, but this is not something new to us. We have always known, even when it’s been hard or scary to admit, that we can’t control our lives or those of others.
Yet, our courage to confess this is an act of trust in the Unconditional Love that Jesus professed and demonstrated which is beyond our control, but is also, thankfully, beyond our imagining. It has no beginning or end; it is ceaseless; and it has the power to shape and transform everything, making it more powerful than our uncertainty, our fear, and our grief. Prayer invites this unhindered love – what we call the love of God – into the shadows, into the valleys, into our lives.
As we make our pilgrimage through this strange land, we can’t have a certain knowledge about the future. We never can. What we can have is trust in the love that has seen us through and brought us safe thus far. My prayer is that you feel love surrounding you even as we are apart from friends and family. May we breathe in love and breathe out mercy. May we remember all our blessings and turn our minds to doing what we can to help those in need. Amen.
Loving God, you have been with us always. In times of celebration and joy and when we have felt as if we have been in dark valleys. May we continue to feel you by our side in this time of uncertainty and change.
In this time, we give thanks for the doctors, nurses and all medical professionals who are on the front lines, for those working to keep medical facilities and care homes safe and clean, for all those who seek to heal and help those who are in need and who put themselves at risk in the process.
Bless all medical scientists and researchers around the world with wisdom and insight, skill, dedication and fortitude, as they combat COVID-19 and many other diseases. May their work yield knowledge and understanding to find treatments, deterrents and vaccines to help all live in better health. May they know your protection and peace.
Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with compassion and true concern for the well-being of all people and the whole of creation. Give them the wisdom to invest in long-term solutions.
Help all of us work for a world where: all receive the health care they need; where hunger, homelessness and poverty are eradicated; that in this time of economic uncertainty that all will have enough; that all work for peace with justice for all
We ask that you be with all those who are alone or feeling isolated. May they know you are with them. Encourage us to reach out to all who we know so they do not feel so isolated.
We ask that you be especially with the family or Jay Blight and all who are grieving. We give you thanks for lives that are lived and shared and for all in them that was good and kind and faithful. May they know that their loved ones are in your company and the company of all the saints. May they find grace and strength in the days to come. We ask this and all things in the name of Jesus who teaches us to pray… Our Father…