These last few months have been different from anything in living memory. We are all left in some way unmoored, set adrift, not knowing how to find the way, or even where we are going. Some of us are still in the early stages of dealing with unbearable loss, some have risked their lives for the good of the community, some of us find ourselves in a precarious status with regard to job, home or food, some of us have had the relative luxury of working safely from home and had food and family with us—and yet, none of us knows really what we will face next.
We also face the reality of terrible injustice all around us, and are invited to join with others in being a part of seeking God’s justice and peace for all. We may be seasoned veterans of the struggle, or we may be feeling for the first time ever the pull of needing to “do something.” We are sorrowful and hopeful and none of us really knows what may come or what exactly to do next.
I don’t know about you, but I like to know what I am supposed to do and where I am headed. I like to know that I have something to contribute. I like to know when something difficult will end. I want to know that people are safe. The truth is nothing is certain right now, and many things have been changed forever. We have mourned so much since March, it is easy to just want to get on with things, and to get back to normal. One of the things I love about Holy Scripture is all the ways it can speak to our situation. Recently Bishop Hughes has spoken of the “Lament” that we find in Scripture and the strength we can draw from the story of Esther. Like many of you, I am reading and re-reading Esther’s story this summer in response to the Bishop’s “homework assignment.” I am also reminded in these times, our times, of how wonderful it must have been to have been part of Noah’s family on the Ark when that dove brought back a branch indicating dry land was once again a reality. I don’t think that is the story that we are in, that isn’t the place in scripture I’m looking to for guidance and strength. Even though “Noah’s Ark” is practically the first story any of us learn, and is so beloved, my heart says it doesn’t represent where we are in this time and this place. We are on a different and longer journey than “40 days and 40 nights.”
Moses and Miriam and the Israelites wandering in the desert on a seemingly endless journey comes next to mind. The sense the people had (even if it wasn’t accurate) of having left relative safety and plenty to boredom, hardship and a never-ending diet of manna. ‘Everything was so good back in Egypt,’ they cried, ‘it wasn’t so bad, why were we led out here to all this? Where are we going? Why aren’t we there yet? Has God left us behind?’ That story resonates for me, my heart says that feels much closer to something like the odyssey of these last months. Like the ancient Israelites, our odyssey keeps getting changed and interrupted, and we experience our own version of the dull pain of knowing whatever else may come, we are not headed back to the familiarity of Egypt. We, like them, have no choice but to press on, trusting that God has prepared a place, and that it will be a place of plenty and justice—but that we must do our part to get there!
This week clergy and other leaders have received guidelines for the “Journey Forward” toward the possibility of resuming some kind of in-person worship during this next stage of the pandemic. We know it will continue for some time and may require much more of us before there is a vaccine or treatment that is widely available. The journey continues and we must faithfully continue on it together. We watch the news and see the cry for justice arising from nearly every street and town in our nation, we sorrow at the setbacks and we rejoice when there are surprising signs of change. We know that centuries and even millennia of inequality and inhumanity and violence will not just disappear. We know this journey continues as well, and we must faithfully continue.
As I think and pray about all this, as I struggle to accept how uncertain and long the journey must be, I am reminded of other figures in scripture, whose names we do not even know, and my heart tells me that they are models, guides, and companions in faithfully journeying on and forward. I think of the Magi who came, as the author of Matthew tells us, “from the east” to seek the newborn king. Their way must have been uncertain and hard, long and dangerous. They find the infant Jesus with joy and could have simply headed home, unconcerned with what came next, or the consequences. They didn’t do that, they didn’t do the easier, safer, faster thing thinking that their journey was “over.” Warned in a dream, they avoided Herod and “went back to their own country by another route.” Their willingness to endure more, for the journey to be longer so as to protect themselves and others seems to me a wonderful model for all the uncertain things we are called to as our journey continues.
As we rejoice, let us remember their witness. As we struggle for justice, let us remember that they were resisting one of the largest empires the world has ever known. We are like those Magi, called by the Spirit of God to seek not only our own goals, but the good and safety of many. We are called to go ways we would not have planned or chosen to ensure that we honor God’s unfolding plan.