“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed.”
It seems like many things I read these days reference the longer lasting effects of the pandemic. There are disagreements over vaccinations, wearing masks, and rules and regulations. While designed to keep us healthy, I think many people are tired of it all. Negative emotions abound. Grief over actual loss of life and grief over loss of life as we knew it are both very real. Anger is close to the surface for many and that anger comes out, not always at situations related to the pandemic. I find that simple kindness is often a rarity. One example that comes to mind is the increase in speeding and what I would call reckless driving. This is both in town and on the interstates. After much reflection over several times of distress, I have concluded that making what I consider poor choices in the use of a motor vehicle is one area where people can have control of their environment. Rather than let another car into a long line of traffic, said cars often speed up to close that gap for themselves. Winning at small things seems to give glee. Driving too fast, dodging in and out of traffic, has become a way of life that affects us all. I often find myself yelling out, “People live here! Slow Down!” Now that is also showing my anger—inside my car no one can hear me yelling, except me! So why do I continue to do that? I am angry at the other’s anger. Hmm.
Fear, Grief, Resentment, Anger, and more have become part of the pandemic life. We can certainly see evidence of the broken or fallen world on a day-by-day basis. We need our savior Jesus more and more.
My reflection in witnessing and experiencing these emotions and actions has gone on to pondering, how can we change this cycle? Perhaps a better way to phrase this is how can we allow our Lord to change us?
Always when I am feeling stuck, I find that turning to scripture and prayer helps. For me it is scripture first and then prayer. And most often for me the psalms are the best place to start.
So, this morning I will take a closer look at Psalm 126, the lectionary appointed one for today. This particular psalm is one of a group of 15 together called the Songs of Ascent. These were sung by the Hebrew pilgrims as they walked to Jerusalem for major feasts, such as the Passover. Jerusalem is a city on a hill so no matter the direction from which you travelled you always were going up. To break the monotony of the long journey they would sing. I can relate to this as before we had our “devices” my family would sing to break up long car trips. How wonderful that the Hebrews would use these Songs of Ascent as they walked.
Professor and writer of Old Testament Interpretation, James L May has said that the songs of ascent are both “Joy remembered and joy anticipated.” Joy remembered and joy anticipated. Why don’t you look at your bulletin for a moment and we will see this joy expressed.
This psalm recalls the historical events of the Jewish exiles returning from Babylon and the rebuilding of the Temple in 6th century BCE. That time was a grand scale restoration of the Israelites and brought with it intense joy. In singing this psalm the people would remember the marvelous things that God had done for them in the past. The first two verses: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream. Then our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.” And then the next two recall how grateful they were for what God had done for them. “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed.” Then the tone changes a bit and in the next verses they speak with confidence to ask for God’s restorative power now. “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev.” And then continued to express their trust that “Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.” Remembering what God had done assured them that God would be with them time and again. It was God who would replace their sadness with joy.
Psalm 126 and the rest of these Songs of Ascent were community songs of trust. Remembering God is the one who brings joy out of sorrow, laughter out of tears and good out of evil, strengthened their trust in him.
Joy remembered brings joy anticipated.
While we can certainly use this for our personal joys, this morning I propose that we try this collectively, looking at our community. What joy has God brought to Emmanuel in the past?
The first joyful memory that first comes to my mind is the result of the rectory fire. Seeing the flames going high out of the rectory roof was a time of shock and fear. However, due to the wonderful fire fighters and to the grace of God that fire was put out with little damage to the rest of the building. The nave, sanctuary, offices, Great Hall and Mowry building were fine. That in itself was a joy. But the future has brought even more joy as the rectory has been redone saving the beauty of the original structure and repurposing the space to offer more to the surrounding community. Plans are currently in formation as to the specific details of how the building will be used but the joy at seeing it fully completed is wonderful. It is more beautiful than we could have imagined. Our gratitude to all who worked on it and our gratitude to God is something wonderful to remember. And, if you want a reminder of the devastation of the fire, for now you can still see the paint peeling off the pillar of the porch in the courtyard. God has brought us out of tragedy and into joy!
The second joyful memory of mine is also of a fire. This was smaller in scope and occurred on the high altar. While the flames destroyed the altar linen and a few other things it was quickly extinguished by the lay reader before the space was totally gone. There is a reminder of this joy on the front of the tabernacle on the altar. The carving of the agnus dei, the lamb of God is charred black. It has been left that way purposefully as a reminder of God’s providence and saving power.
As we remember the joys, we are grateful, and that gratitude extends to all the people who listened to God to help achieve His purposes here. The Polks, the family who gave the money to build this structure, are a part of that group, as well as those who gave the stained glass windows and other items to reflect the beauty of God’s world and God’s story. The committees who planned and saw to it that the additions to the building were made to reflect the needs of the 1960’s. The people who worked tirelessly in the late 1980’s to see that this space would continue to be a beacon of Christ’s light in the world of downtown Champaign. There is much joy to be remembered here.
And as we remember the joy that God has brought to us we can also find the assurance of his presence with us through the more difficult times. “Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.” The times of sadness are like a season of growing and they will come to an end.
The psalms of ascent promise that; God promises that.
Joy remembered and joy anticipated.
Take home the weeks psalm. Read it and remember your own times of joy at what God has done for you. Be grateful for those and be assured that joy will come again. God is present with us always and doing good for us in all things. Our gratitude will overflow! And we will want to give back to the one who has given us all.
Perhaps now instead of yelling at those other drivers I can pray for them to know God’s kindness, presence and joy!
The Lord has done great things for us and we are glad indeed!