“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil.”
I’ve spent some time this week thinking about mortality. I’m betting you have too. I haven’t been thinking about my own mortality so much as how death seems to have become a part of life in a much more cultural and intentional way. Though Montgomery and Alabama have not been hit by the catastrophic effects of COVID-19 like other places in the world
and even in our own country, the threat still looms. We seem to be walking in the shadow of death together. And yet, in this past week I have seen so many messages of peace and joy and hope.
There is the video of the guy in Spain who is sitting on his balcony playing My Heart Will Go On when he is joined by another guy on another balcony who accompanies him with his saxophone. As they play this impromptu duet, more and more people start coming out on to their own balconies to listen. It is sad and it is sweet and it fills one with hope that the spirit of our true nature is not one that succumbs to suffering and despair but one that overcomes it because we know there is something more.
There are the stories of neighbors sticking notes in one another’s mailboxes, making sure they have each other’s phone numbers and offering to pick up prescriptions or groceries for those who are elderly or immune-compromised.
There are the scenes on the news of China as they begin to come out of quarantine and instead of noise pollution, hear birds, and instead of smog smell fresh air.
There are the amazing Americans like each of you who are willing to practice social distancing and stay at home and get take-out from local businesses all because we love one another enough to stay away from one another.
And there is you—I have already heard some great stories from our Care Circles—Stories of compassion and joy simply in the act of reaching out to one another. And then there are the more concrete stories of how, after one Care Circle was initiated, a member of that Circle confessed her concerns regarding her ability to continue to work while trying to care for a two-year-old. Within minutes, she had the names of three people who could help her with childcare during the day. That is the love that defines our church family here at Ascension.
Of course we will have moments of despair in the days ahead. Some of you may have already experienced them, like the mother, who on the first day of home schooling, was trying to figure out how to get a kid transferred out of her class. But we are in this together and as such can lean on one another through a variety of ways even if they aren’t by actually touching. We don’t have to do this alone and we won’t do this alone. We are all walking through this valley together—finding a new path and beginning to see the world in a new way.
For most of us our busy schedules and constant activity keep us from slowing down and often place constraints on our relationships and experiences. We are so distracted by our day we become blind to our many blessings and lose our ability to see things in new and transformative ways. We put ourselves in the center of our experience and in so doing, we lose our true focus, we lose our sight. We can easily become like the man born blind but in regaining our sight we can be transformed and witness to the power of hope and glory of God that emanates from a life centered in Christ.
That is the message of the Gospel we read today. The man born blind was not made blind by God in order that God could show how great God was by healing him. The man born blind becomes a vessel for the revelation of a God who only wants to heal us and bring us into right relationship with God. No one’s sin caused this man’s blindness. Instead this man’s blindness can offer opportunity in a dark and broken world for the light of Christ to shine through. No one’s sin caused this pandemic—but in this pandemic we can shine Christ’s light to the world and glorify God.
The shepherd’s rod and staff become Jesus’s mud and water to bring comfort to those who suffer, sight to the blind, allow the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, the dead to know eternal life. And as we hold on to that comfort, we find our lives transformed in the power of grace and hope and mercy because we know there is something more to this world—something more than a virus and disease, something more than loss and grief, something more than our once busy schedules and deadlines could offer us, something more than anything we might ever be able to do for ourselves—there is faith, believing in the power and love and care of our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sustainer.
The world can be a dark place, suffering and disease and blindness can happen. We can get lost rambling in valleys that are shadowed by death and despair but the Lord is our shepherd and he watches over us and cares for us and guides us in times of crisis and joy. In this time of anxiety and the unknown, we can walk as children of the light trusting the God who heals on the Sabbath and sets a table before us in the presence of all that would threaten us harm. And in walking this path as children of light we bear witness to the transformative and healing power of God that is already present with us and will follow us all the days of our life. Amen.
Lent 4A: Psalm 23; I Samuel 16:1-13; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-38
Church of the Ascension, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, March 22, 2020
Rev. Candice B. Frazer