Hope in the Midst of a Pandemic

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For thousands of years, when people in the world found themselves in a crisis, they have turned to the Psalms for words of hope and peace.

About one-third of the Psalms are called “Lament Psalms.” I especially love these Psalms for their sheer honesty. These Psalms are unashamedly real, straight-up authentic. They speak to the reality of the pain of our world: the plight of the poor; the despair of the displaced; the evil of war; the scourge of disease; and all kinds of injustices.

Psalm 6 is perhaps my favorite “Lament Psalm.” For here the Psalmist honestly pours out his heart before God like none other:

2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
   O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror. 
3 My soul also is struck with terror,
   while you, O Lord—how long? 
4 Turn, O Lord, save my life;
   deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love. 
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you;
   in Sheol who can give you praise? 
6 I am weary with my moaning;
   every night I flood my bed with tears;
   I drench my couch with my weeping. 
7 My eyes waste away because of grief;
   they grow weak because of all my foes. 

We do not know why the Psalmist is languishing so, why their bones are shaking and their soul is struck with terror. We do not know exactly what is causing them to grieve. What was lost. What made them so weary, so afraid of dying. Why their bed is flooded, their couch is drenched with tears. We do not know what great change happened in the world of the Psalmist that caused them to experience so much fear and uncertainty, lamenting, how long, O Lord, how long?

But we can certainly relate. Perhaps more now than ever.

Notice that the Psalmist is not afraid to reveal their grief. There is no holding back. There is no spinning the facts, denying the science. There’s no masking the pain, no pretending to be strong because others will think they are weak. Things are about as bad as they can be. Their eyes are wasting away with grief. And they are brutally honest about it.

I believe this is a great reminder for us that is okay to grieve what we have lost. It is okay to grieve the uncertainty. And its is alright to grieve openly and honestly.

However, as the Apostle Paul once said, we grieve, but we do not grieve without hope.  And here, it is the honest, grieving Psalmist who also reminds us that even when our eyes are wasting away from grief, our souls are struck with terror, there is hope.

Notice the change in tone beginning with verse 8:

8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
   for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. 
9 The Lord has heard my supplication;
   the Lord accepts my prayer. 
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;
   they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.

Somewhere between seven and eight, something happened in the life of the Psalmist. New life is experienced. One could say that Easter comes. Pentecost arrives. Blessed assurance, amazing grace, and a peace beyond all understanding are received.

Now, like we do not know what exactly happened in the Psalmist’s world that caused them to express their grief so openly in verses 1-7, we do not know what exactly happened between verses seven and eight that turned their life around. We just know that something happened, and that something was miraculous. Somehow, someway, new life, inexplicable, yet certain, came. Somewhere between verses seven and eight, Divine Love and hope showed up. The Psalmist does not say exactly how God showed up, but we can certainly take some good guesses.

Perhaps people from all over the Psalmist’s world came together, realizing that despite their differences, they were all connected, they were intrinsically dependent on one another. Perhaps they came together to truly love their neighbors as themselves, to do unto others as they would have others do unto them. They came together and sacrificed much, valuing people more than anything else.

Yes, the workers of evil were still working. Some people, I am certain, behaved selfishly, hording essential supplies. Some behaved fearfully purchasing more weapons. Some, I am sure, even in the name of God, struggled to put the well-being of the most vulnerable ahead of their self-interests and greed.

However, most of the people were workers of good and not evil. They shared neccessities. They chose people over politics. They chose their neighbors over money, as they chose the way of love over the way of fear.

And when they chose the way of love, poor people who could not afford to pay their bail bonds were released from jail cells. Homeless people were taken off the streets and placed in hotel rooms. Hot meals were prepared and delivered to people who were food insecure. Food banks and blood banks received generous donations.

Liberals and Conservatives put aside their differences. Households of faith finally began to realize that their buildings were not that important because what the world needed was people to worship out in the the community with their service more than it needed people worshipping behind four walls in services.

Healthcare professionals risked their lives to heal all who were brought to them. People out of work and out of school made made masks for hospitals. Breweries and Distilleries made hand sanitizers and automobile and vacuum manufacturers made ventilators.

Teachers found creative ways to love and teach their students. Police, firefighters and first responders continued to faithfully serve and protect. People everywhere picked up and delivered medications and groceries to their neighbors.

And the rich and the famous, heroes like Drew Brees and Zion Williamson, gave millions of dollars and immeasurable hope to their cities.

So, maybe we do know what happened between verses seven and eight after all. The Holy One showed up. In different ways through different people, God came. Selfless, sacrificial, united love came.

This is how we can grieve honestly, but grieve hopefully in this uncertain and frightening time.

I have heard many people say that when this pandemic is over, we will never be the same again.

Let’s pray that this is true.

Let’s pray, that despite our differences, we will never forget that we are all connected and dependent on each other regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, politics and religion.

And having witnessed that it was selflessness and not greed, that it was love and not fear, that saw us through this crisis, we will continue to love our neighbors in such a way that the entire world will not only be healed of this virus, but it will be more kind, more just, more forgiving, and more unified—

The most vulnerable among us will be protected more. Science will be respected more. Truth upheld more. Those who produce, deliver, stock, prepare, check-out and serve our food will be valued more. Gratitude and graciousness will be expressed more. Mercy will be shared more.

And when we face another crisis, when we face any adversity, we will always remember that it is okay to be afraid. It is okay to grieve, confident that being afraid and grieving does not mean we are a weak. Because we will be as strong as we have ever been, never allowing, even for one minute, our fear to shut out love, and our grief to diminish hope. Amen.