Bless Now, O God, the Journey

Originally written for the April 2020 issue of the UNITY Lutheran Church newsletter

Recently I had the opportunity to gather virtually with some members of my home congregation in Chicago for a Lenten mini-retreat. We centered our time on the theme of journeys – always a good retreat topic.

The language of journey and journeying is fitting in so many ways, especially right now. Certainly we speak of the journey of our own life stories. We find such journeys in the stories of our biblical ancestors – Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the Israelites, Jesus and the disciples, Paul and all the apostles. This time of year in our churches, we also speak of the Lenten journey – walking through the wilderness toward the resurrection and new life of Easter.

This year, that journey feels a little (or a lot) different, doesn’t it? All of sudden, almost as if overnight, our world has found itself in the wilderness of pandemic, disease (and dis-ease), social distancing, and self-isolation. We journey through this new, unexpected wilderness, day by day, even hour by hour, uncertain, anxious, or fearful of what the future holds. Our work has been reduced to the categories of “essential” and “non-essential.” Graduation ceremonies for high school and college seniors have been canceled. Even summer vacations are suddenly on hold.

In our churches, including here at UNITY, Holy Week and Easter – the pinnacle of our worship life – are also about to look and feel a lot different. It makes me sad that we won’t be able to physically gather to share the eucharist on Maundy Thursday, to hear the passion story and meditate on the cross on Good Friday, to stand in the holy waiting of the Easter Vigil, and to burst forth with our collective “alleluias!” on the Day of Resurrection.

But just because we can’t gather in person doesn’t mean those things are any less true. The journey might look different, but the good news of the resurrection is the same. One pastor put it this way on Facebook recently:

“Resurrection will happen even if we’re at home. Easter doesn’t depend on trumpets, lilies, and new dresses… The first Easter took place with no fanfare or packed churches. It looks like this year will be more like that. It will still be Easter. Resurrection is not fragile. It does not depend on us. It all depends on God, who will not let us down.”

Hear that again: Resurrection doesn’t depend on us. Resurrection depends on God, who has not, does not, will not ever let us down. Alleluia and amen!

This Easter, UNITY will gather virtually, whether on Facebook Live or another away. We’ll hear the gospel of the empty tomb from our various devices. We’ll shout our “alleluias” from our living rooms. It will definitely feel different. But instead of lamenting what we’re missing (though that grief is okay, too), I invite us to welcome what we could be adding. Resurrection is the empty tomb. And: Resurrection is the sound of birds chirping and the sight of flowers sprouting, as earth awakens once more this spring. Resurrection is the way we’re perhaps in touch even more these days with family and friends, near and far, through Zoom or FaceTime or that antique thing called a telephone. Resurrection will surely be the spontaneous joy that will inevitably burst forth when we gather once again for worship in our sanctuaries and share our “quarantine stories” with each other over coffee hour.

Resurrection, as the hymn writer Sylvia Dunstan puts it in one of my favorite Lenten hymns “Bless Now, O God, the Journey,” is God’s hope that burns through the terrors, God’s love that sustains the day. Resurrection happens not just one day a year on Easter but everyday in moments big and small – not necessarily in the absence of terrors or fear but in spite of them. Where are you experiencing resurrection and new life, even now, still in the wilderness and on the journey?

Pr. Josh+

Photo by Simon Fitall on Unsplash

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