Lamenting in Hope
Bible reading: Psalm 142
With my voice, I cried out to the Lord. With my voice, I made supplication to the Lord.In his sight, I pour out my prayer, and before him, I declare my tribulation.Though my spirit may become faint within me, even then, you have known my paths. Along this way, which I have been walking, they have hidden a snare for me.I considered toward the right, and I looked, but there was no one who would know me.Flight has perished before me, and there is no one who has concern for my soul.I cried out to you, O Lord. I said: You are my hope, my portion in the land of the living.Attend to my supplication. For I have been humbled exceedingly.Free me from my persecutors, for they have been fortified against me. Lead my soul out of confinement in order to confess your name.The just are waiting for me, until you repay me. You may also find it helpful to read Obadiah 15-21 and Matthew 13:10-17.
Today’s psalm, number 142 in Hebrew numbering and 141 in Greek, is a psalm of lament. Over fifty of the 150 psalms in the psalter include prayer of lament, either offered by individuals or by the whole assembly. Lament has been part of the daily prayer of God’s chosen people through the ages. Today many lament that Covid-19 separates our community through quarantine and isolation, shielding and social distancing; that so many have been ill and have died; that businesses are going bankrupt and many become unemployed. For many rural church communities there may be lament that Rural Mission Sunday may engage with fewer people this year, or a recognition that our church life lacks the deep incarnation of us coming together ‘in the flesh’.
Obadiah picks up on this theme of lament, but is also able to look forward with hope and joy to the time when once again ‘the kingdom will be for the Lord’. When we have been wronged or aggrieved it is good to pray in a way which leaves retribution not to human beings but to our divine Lord. Our hearts have more space for hope when we are able to relinquish grievances and resentments to God. They injure us partly by disabling our capacity for hope and so diminishing our potential to live in Christ. Nelson Mandela once said that having resentment is like drinking poison then hoping that it will kill your enemies. The same holds true for grievances in general.
Even for the Christian community, centred on the power of Christ’s death and resurrection which brings such freedom, delight, fulfilment and promise regardless of current circumstances, the burden of sadness is also present and may cast shadows on our lives as individuals and as the community of God’s people.
One blessing of parables is that they use the reality of our own world to invite us into the mystery of God, not limited by creedal or doctrinal definitions, but open to evoking memories, personal reflections and allegories from our own lives. Jesus shares stories recognised by all; interestingly he never tells a parable about carpentry!
After months of lockdown when I have been medically shielding with restrictive advice from government, NHS and local shielding teams, my personal frustrations grow. Last week, perhaps influenced by the Parable of the Sower, which I’d been praying with, I realised hadn’t seen the crops grow for four months, nor smelled the aromas of silage, or manure, nor seen livestock grow. Out I went in the car to local fields to sit and look. Winter barley is almost ready, spring barley doing well. Winter wheat is turning from blue-green to golden as the heads swell. Grass fields are well-grazed, but cattle look healthy.
Something in all this helps my hope in a way that words, even the best sermons, can’t manage. Why not try a similar exercise yourself? Take a Bible or write / print out the Parable of the Sower, and go on a walk or drive to a location which includes fields of crops. Read through the passage (Matthew 13:1-9), asking God to use your physical environment to show you new things about this familiar story.
Fr Rob Taylerson, Priest in the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham and Arthur Rank Centre trustee
This Sunday, 19 July, is Rural Mission Sunday, an annual initiative run by the Arthur Rank Centre. The simple premise at the heart of Rural Mission Sunday is to encourage you and your church congregation to celebrate another year of faithfully sustaining an effective Christian presence in your community.
We’ve provided resources and suggestions to help you shape Sunday worship in a way which enables you to do this, and this year we’ve considered how you might do this as a gathered or as a dispersed congregation.
It’s not too late to register or to download the materials and use them to help shape your service; just visit arthurrankcentre.org.uk/rural-mission-sunday-2020 to find out more!
Please ensure that you comply with all national and local government and church guidelines as you celebrate Rural Mission Sunday in your communities.