In our Friday emails, I like to share some thoughts about where we are as a church and ponder where God may be calling us to go. Sadly, I begin with a very sensitive pastoral item that will touch all our hearts. This time of social distancing has created a challenge in communicating the deeply significant events of life. I would much prefer to share sensitive news like this during Sunday morning worship when we are gathered. However, that will not the case for a while yet. It is with deep sadness that I share the news of Dick Henderson. Dick died Thursday afternoon amidst the process of his move to Langley Gardens, a residence where he was pleased to be finally moving to. You will all fondly remember Dick who would arrive early for church by the Handy Dart and proudly sit with his daughter, Janet in church. He was a man of deep faith, deeply committed to his family, and a lover of sports. We give thanks for the peace that Dick knows in God's care, and we now pray for his daughter, Janet and all the friends and family who mourn this loss. We also hold Terry Hill in prayer who has been a faithful pastoral visitor to Dick for many years. As further information is available from the family, we will pass it on. May God, the mender of all our hearts, be with us in this time of our collective grief.
I also wanted to take a moment and begin a conversation about looking into the future. I wonder...how are you feeling about the future these days? After over 15 months of this pandemic marathon, I suspect that there is a range of emotions that rest in our tender hearts. As we have moved into the second stage of the BC Health regulation plan, I am noticing an increasing level of optimism and hope among people, as we begin to see some 'light at the end of the pandemic tunnel'. While we are certainly some distance from returning to a 'new normal', I wanted to begin exploring where we are spiritually. How does one shift from fear, uncertainty, grief, and suffering towards hope, rejoicing and optimism? The conversation that I would like to commence this Sunday is what happens between these two extremes. This summer season, I am suggesting, will present us with an opportunity to tend to our tender souls. Let's begin the conversation about what that will look like for you. I will begin the conversation this Sunday and will welcome your thoughts, ideas, and reflections back. Our visiting ministers will also be sharing some of their thoughts on this. I am excited to hear the merging of the collective wisdom of our congregation and visiting ministers at work! May this summer journey be one of growth as we move towards the 'light at the end of the pandemic tunnel'.
“A Time to Mourn & A Time to Dance: Ponderings on Light at the End of the Pandemic Tunnel”
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 ~ June 27, 2021 ~ Northwood United Church ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook
OUCH!!! It seems like everyone is walking around these days with a sore shoulder. Reminiscent of a punch from a schoolyard bully, it hurts to raise our arm...OUCH! I’ve been seeing lots of folks with tender shoulders; sporting little round bandages as a remnant of their vaccination visit; and lots and lots of posts on Facebook and Instagram saying “vaccinated”. And…I have ALSO been seeing lots of smiles. People breathing a little more easily, sensing a new beginning, seeing a light at the end of the long covid tunnel. Who ever thought we would be lining up and jumping for joy at the chance to be pricked by a needle? But we are! There has been a growing sense of relief and optimism as vaccination numbers continue to rise and Covid counts go down. It seems like just yesterday that we were fearing the future as shortages of toilet paper, masks, and hand sanitizer grew, as we were fearful of breathing within 6 feet of anyone, as we collectively wondered what the future would ever hold. Today is Sunday June 27th and we have now been separated from many of our regular activities for over 15 months! This has been a LONG, LONG, LONG journey for us all!
And, at this 15-month mark, as we cautiously look towards some ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, many feel that it is a time to celebrate…a time to dance. We have now entered what the BC Health authority has named “Stage Two” of as the restrictions within our province have eased a little more. Allowable gatherings have slowly been growing in size; travel increasingly is allowed, gatherings and even worship…so many things are indicative of the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ that we see ahead. As a faith community, we are now allowed to gather with groups of 50 or less. And at this very moment, I am gathering with our younger families for an ‘in-person’ wrap-up of our Sunday Program. Yes! That’s right…I said ‘in person’. With the temperature rising, we will gathering under Northwood’s beautiful trees for worship, games and the joy of actually seeing one another ‘in person’. Looking ahead, we are cautiously optimistic that our province will achieve the 4th stage of the easing of restrictions in early September. And we will, very likely, be back in church for a ‘welcome back Sunday’ after Labour Day weekend on September 12th. Yes! It seems that there is much to look forward to, much to celebrate. Light at the end of the tunnel! A time to dance!
As we move our world situation alongside this morning’s text that Nicole just read, scholars would generally agree that we are shifting somewhere back in time around 3,000 years from today, to the story of David’s kingship over the united monarchy of Israel and Judah. And, as we explore this beautiful text, you will find that we have a lot in common with our faith ancestors. As I mentioned prior to Nicole’s reading, the people have been waiting for good news and stability to come to their homeland. David had risen to become a mighty warrior, he had also raised the concern of the King. Was David after his throne, wondered Saul? And Saul increasingly let feelings of jealousy and rage grow…overcome…and he began to plot against David’s life to further ensure his power. As is always the case with rage…jealousy…and plotting murder…the insidious element of evil begins to grow and take over. King Saul, along with his fierce warrior son Jonathan are killed in battle. The warring Philistines increasingly grew in power and expanded. The people of Israel were in a state of fear and uncertainty. Their King was dead; the heir to the throne killed in battle; and the mighty warrior, David who had successfully held the Philistines off in the past had, seemingly, changed sides. The Israelites were fearful for their future; they were devoid of hope; they were uncertain of what tomorrow would bring. Shifting ahead to modern day. If this pandemic has brought anything out among us, it has brought many of these same emotions out as well: fear, uncertainty, hopelessness. We share a lot with the people of Israel and Judah, indeed. And as the text shifts over from the 1st Book of Samuel into today’s text at the beginning of 2nd Samuel, they are, cautiously, seeing light at the end of the tunnel as they see in David the basis for hope…for peace…for rejoicing. As I mentioned, there is a lot of crossover between this text and our point in the pandemic journey, isn’t there?
What is instructive for us, then, is how this next chapter of the story unfolds. Does this basis for hope, peace and rejoicing begin with a huge, unbridled party? Is it their moment to dance and celebrate? Well…no…David’s leadership of moving them into a time of hope and peace begins with a time of lament…it begins with a musical dirge. Remember, David is the talented musician who first got the attention of King Saul for the healing sounds of his stringed lyre. And this text is a musical lament…a healing breather…that is taken before any celebration will be engaged, before any fireworks are ignited, before any dancing ensues. If you will, this text is the funeral for that which was…which must be delved into before that which is can ever be experienced. David’s lament sings “How the mighty have fallen.” The text sings three times of the fall of King Saul and his son Jonathan. The grief over that which was; the grief over that which could have been; the grief over how things had been realized… “how the mighty have fallen.” Before David’s divine rule can be assumed and celebrated, they must begin to heal their tender, wounded, damaged hearts of the past. For me, this is an instructive step for us as we move ever closer to our ‘light at the end of the Covid tunnel’. If we are wisely wanting to move ahead, it will be important, for us also, to take time ‘to be’…to heal…to ponder what we have been enduring for such a long time. We must take time to mourn before we take time to dance into the future.
I took in a lecture given by a psychologist recently who showed how our sympathetic nervous system…the part of our brain responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ reaction, has been working overtime for the entire pandemic! She explained how this part of our brain is designed to only function for a brief period, temporarily shutting other systems down, in order that we can divert all of our energies towards survival. We have never meant to be on high alert for such an extended period! So, if you feel emotionally on edge, exhausted, burned out, this is exactly the reason. And after all the stressful, hectic uncertainties that we have been presented with, we are understandably exhausted! Before the new way of David’s rule is to arrive, David offered a healing lament for the people who would lead. And, for us, before we can move into the light ahead at the end of the tunnel, we must lament that which was and simply … ‘be’. We need to cry… we need to be enraged…we need to rest…we need to mourn as anyone healing through the varied stages of grief does. As David offers his lament to heal his people preparing to move forward, we also will be wise to take time for lament as we heal our pain.
Some of this will be obvious as we think of our First responders. I am now hearing stories of medical professionals who feel that they have nothing left to give. This pandemic has taken so much from them that they are unsure if they can continue in thier career once the pandemic is over. How did they keep up such levels of alert? Caring for her patients…unsure if the hospitals can handle the stresses of growing numbers…watching field hospitals being constructed…returning home, fearful that they might bring Covid home with them to their families. There will be tremendous amounts of healing for our first responders. There will be healing that needs to happen for ALL of us. In varied ways, we have ALL been on our own front lines! Seniors locked up in the solitary confinement of their rooms during outbreaks, only to receive meals delivered to their door by a masked, gowned, gloved staff person. Slowly feeling lonely, separated, isolated…healing needs to happen. I was officiating a funeral some time ago and I presented prayer shawls to a mother and two daughters who had lost their dad to suicide. This pandemic had placed his mental health challenges to the edge. As I placed the prayer shawl in each of their hands, one of the daughters reached out and gently touched me. That young woman is age of my daughter and she had just lost her dad. We aren’t supposed to touch with Covid, are we? And as she gently touched my hand, I realized the lack of touch that I had been missing from so many in ministry. We shake hands at church; we hug, I place communion bread in a person’s hands, I visit a sick person in the hospital and hold their hands as we pray…that had been removed from me for so long. I cried as I lamented this challenging time we have ALL navigated.
I wonder what ‘YOU’ will need to lament as you prepare to move increasingly towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Grief experts, and some of you joining us in worship are grief experts, tell us that there is no correct / right way to heal. It is as natural and unique we all are. What you need will be different from what the person beside you needs. This summer will be a significant time to consider what you need. What you need to lament and mourn as you begin your healing process. But there is a commonality pertaining to healing. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a noted grief expert, calls it “acceptance.” And finding our way towards a place of acceptance will be that time when we have sung our laments to a point where we feel ready to move ahead in new ways of being. Perhaps that is why David sung “How the mighty have fallen”, not once…or twice…but three times in this lament.
We are going to be talking a lot, in August, about returning ‘in-person worship’ in what we anticipate will be occurring in September. But suffice it to say that not one of us will not return as we left. We have all been changed. Some will not feel immediately ready to return; others will be ready…but in a new way. I think, for all of us, the new beginning will provide an opportunity to define how we will move ahead and dance into the future. But before there is a time to dance, we must now take a time to mourn…to lament and heal.
Summertime should provide an opportunity for rest and reflection. And, I pray that yours does. Take the time to lament that which was; hold God’s light of healing up to the pains that you have suffered; journal about it; cry over it; pray with it; allow God’s healing to be present. David’s lament sang not once, or twice, but three times “How the mighty have fallen”. May we take this summer sabbath time as one of lament, finding God’s healing, God’s peace, and God’s guidance as we slowly move towards the light at the end of the tunnel.