As we prepare to celebrate Easter in our homes instead of our church buildings, Bishop Hughes reflects on what the story of Hagar teaches about how God can help us deal with circumstances beyond our control. (Time: 5:18.)
This is Bishop Hughes in the Diocese of Newark and it is Holy Week. And this Holy Week I have been thinking about a woman in the Hebrew scriptures, Hagar. And it probably seems like an odd choice to be thinking about Hagar in the midst of Holy Week, but her story does not leave my mind.
I think part of what draws me back to Hagar's story again and again this week is because she had so little agency. She had so little choice. She was a slave in the household of Abraham and Sarah. They decided that she would bear the child that Sarah could not have because she was barren and too old to bear children. They decided when Sarah no longer wanted to – could no longer face Hagar and her child – because while she wanted that child there, she was upset that there Hagar and that child were. They decided that after Sarah had a child, this miraculous child that was Isaac, that it was time for Hagar to go.
And twice in her story – once when Sarah was so terrible to her after she became pregnant and had that first, and had her child, and then secondly when Abraham decided it was time for Hagar and her child to go – twice Hagar went out into the wilderness. The first time she was in the wilderness because she ran away from Sarah's meanness. And an angel, a messenger from God – it's the first time we hear of a messenger in the Hebrew Scriptures – a messenger from God let her know that God cared about her, was watching over her and that she should go back to the household where she would be safe. And then that second time she went out until the wilderness because Abraham decided she could no longer stay in his household. He gave her enough food and water to carry and drink for a while, but she wouldn't be able to last forever in the wilderness, and eventually that food and water ran out. And in her despair the baby was crying and she needed water, and it was a messenger of God that heard the baby cry and showed Hagar where she could find water.
And I think the reason that Hagar has stayed so heavily on my mind this week is because there is a sense of a lack of agency, a lack of choice that we have, that says if this virus, this pandemic, created a world and a whole new set of rules that we have no choice but to live into – but we do make the choice. We make the choice not just to keep ourselves safe but to keep others safe. We didn't just make a choice, we made a sacrifice. We have sacrificed worshiping in the way in which we are accustomed and which we love. And learning to worship in a completely different way, in order to keep not only ourselves and our family safe, but to keep all people safe. And we like Hagar are wandering around in a wilderness – sometimes it's a wilderness it feels like we stepped into by choice but sometimes it feels like somebody walked us out into this wilderness and left us there without enough food and barely enough water to drink. And however we got into this wilderness, a messenger of God manages to show us how to get to safety and where we can get a drink to quench our thirst.
Here's what I know this Holy Week, this Holy Week that is so odd, and here's what I know this Easter. This Easter that will be triumphant even without us all sitting in our churches full to overflowing, with ourselves and Easter lilies and carols and bells, but in the midst of Holy Week in our house. In the midst of Easter and our own tables, that the messenger of God is with us. Showing us how to get a drink. Giving us food to eat. Letting us know that right where we are, God cares for us and is leading us to safety.
I pray for God's blessings on the rest of your Holy Week and for God's joy to be full to overflowing in your hearts and in your households this Easter.