Pandemic blues heighten God’s glory to come
January 3, 2021
The Book of Lamentations begins with these words: How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her (Lam. 1:1–2a).
Writing for a magazine that comes out six times a year means I have early deadlines. And so, as I wrote this column in mid-April, it struck me that the words in Lamentations could have been written by a journalist reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than by an author some 2,600 years ago after the fall of Jerusalem.
With much of our nation having been shut down, our cities — once bustling with so many people — were left eerily deserted. Those hospitalized with COVID-19 sobbed through the night, longing for the touch of their families, who could not come near them. And the economic ramifications have left many of us feeling less secure and the poorest among us even more devastated.
The opening words in Lamentations hit home in a particular way for a friend of mine in Chicago. His octogenarian mother was one of more than 140,000 people infected in New York City. They had to put her on a ventilator and moved her into the intensive care unit. He, of course, was in Chicago, but even if he were in New York City, he would still have been separated from her. His consolation mostly came from the rosary beads he knew she was holding — a comfort when no one was there to physically hold her.
Their story is one of countless others in the path of the pandemic. The hopelessness and helplessness, though, particularly hit the poor among us — those who are more likely to have complicating health issues, those who do not have access to adequate medical care, and those whose jobs do not permit them to work from home. Studies from the Economic Policy Institute, for instance, showed that only one in six Hispanics/Latinxs in America and only one in five African Americans could work from home.
Daunting times we are in, yet Romans 8:12–25 gives us words of hope. In Romans, Paul tells us that God addresses our fear by adopting us as children (v. 15). He reminds us that God has been working to free the whole creation from the bondage of corruption (v. 21). He seeks to give us perspective by reminding us that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (v. 18).
Yet it is difficult to picture these promises from an isolated room in the ICU or when you are unsure if the job that puts bread on your table today will supply provision tomorrow.
Even on our best days, it is hard to see these promises coming true. It is hard to find hope. But hope we must find. And in our despair, Paul reminds us that “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (vv. 24–25).
Let us patiently wait, prayerfully hope and courageously take the steps we are called to take to help transform the world into one that is just for all. Where health care is available to all, the homeless have a place to shelter in health and in sickness, and those who never have the luxury of working from home are given all the provisions they need to remain safe. And while we wait for our faith to become sight, may the Spirit give us eyes to see God’s work among us, adopting us as children, liberating us from bondage and revealing glory to us.
Chip Hardwick, Interim Executive, Synod of the Covenant
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, January 3, 2021, the Second Sunday after Christmas (Year B)
First Reading Jeremiah 31:7-14
Second Reading Ephesians 1:3-14
Gospel John 1:(1-9) 10-18
Today’s Focus: Hope
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Zenia Baker, Presbyterian Foundation
Cheryl Barnes, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray:
For those within this world who are in need, Lord, hear our prayer. For those who work to ensure that all may eat, Lord, hear our prayer. That all would have enough, Lord, stir your people to action. Amen.