Pandemic Ponderings of the Transitional Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Shepherds and Lapsley, Sue Westfall

March 15, 2021

Last week we passed the year mark of having our lives upended by a global pandemic or, as the New York Times put it, “The week our reality broke” For many the year marker was a time to pause, to name, and to lament the many losses we all have experienced. Certainly the loss of so many precious lives. But also the loss of jobs, the loss of our naivete about the inequities (and iniquities) around race in our nation. The loss of our privileged sense of being able to move freely about the world and the loss of physical presence with loved ones or with anyone. These losses were experienced unevenly across the country and around the world with poor people generally bearing the heaviest burden of the losses. But if you’re feeling sad or disoriented or simply find yourself with a heaviness of spirit, you are paying attention.

As we move on this Lent toward Holy Week, we give ourselves permission to grieve our losses even as we grieve the events of Holy Week that cost Jesus his life. There is a lot of pain and injustice in this world and Jesus was not exempt from it nor did he expect his followers to be. On the contrary, he entered fully into it and our Holy Week observations invite us to look upon pain and grieve and lament the pain and the injustice, the betrayals, and the cowardice that were exposed then and now. As Jesus’ followers we are called to look honestly at the hard parts of life. As Rachel Held Evans in Searching for Sunday, so memorably put it, “God is in the business of bringing dead things back to life, so if you want in on God’s business, you better prepare to follow God to all the rock-bottom, scorched-earth, dead-on-arrival corners of this world – including those in your own heart – because … that’s where God gardens.”

Yet, while we are invited to walk with Jesus through the whole awful Holy Week, and as we are invited to fully experience and acknowledge the pain and grief in our lives we do so not without hope. Because we also know how it ends. “Resurrection,” Frederick Buechner reminds us, “means that the worst thing is never the last thing.”

I close with these words from author and poet Ann Weems whose son was killed at a gas station shortly after his 21st birthday. As she describes it, “On August 14th, 1982, the stars fell from my sky.” From the grief of that loss, she wrote a book called Psalms of Lament where she uses the psalms to explore her own unremitting grief. She writes, “In the godforsaken, obscene quicksand of life, there is a deafening alleluia rising from the souls of those who weep and those who weep with those who weep. If you watch you will see the hand of God, putting the stars back in their skies, one by one.”


As ever in prayer,


Sue Westfall


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