March 28, 2012
St. Mark's Lutheran Church
+ Well, I brought in this season of Lent preaching here at St. Mark’s on Ash Wednesday—way back on February 22—and here I am on the last Lenten Wednesday preaching here once more at St. Mark’s. I’m like the bookends of the Lenten Season for us.
Ash Wednesday seems like a long time ago, to me anyway. It has been a long journey through Lent. It always is.
But now, here we are. We are finishing that journey and preparing for another. We are preparing for the journey through Holy Week. Holy Week, which begins with such glory, with palms and shouts of hosannah. Holy Week, which plummets to its deepest darkness and despair. oly Week, which ends with a glory unlike any other glory we have ever experienced.
And as we prepare for the emotional roller coaster of Holy Week, we do so tonight with a promise of strength. e do so girded to some extent for the journey. We are reminded as we he head out on that journey that, even though we think we are weak, even though we think we are wearied by the long journey through Lent, we do have a resource of strength.
In our reading tonight from Isaiah, we find the prophet saying,
“Surely God is my salvation:
I will trust and will not be afraid,
For the Lord God is my strength
And my might,
[God] has become my salvation.”
Those are powerful words. They are not words we should take lightly. They are not words we should just merely pass off as poetic waxing. They are words of survival. They are words that buoy us and sustain us.
For the people from St. Stephen’s, they often hear me quote one of my personal living heroes—a great Episcopal priest and writer by the name of Barbara Brown Taylor. I just recently heard an interesting story regarding Mother Taylor that has stuck with me. She was asked to speak at a small church, but she found herself stressing over what she was to say. When she the arrived, she still wasn’t sure was she was going to say and it was really weighing on her heavily. She was feeling a great amount of anxiety over not knowing what she was to say. But then, at that point, the priest of the congregation asked her a simple question, “What is saving your life these days?” and she knew what to talk about.
I love that question.
“What is saving your life these days?”
Take a moment to think about that. Because when you can answer, you’ll know where your strength lies.
For me, simple things save my life on a regular basis. This past week, I received a package in the mail. A large package. In it, I found, to my great joy, a book. And not just any book. It was my Oxford edition of The Works of George Herbert, edited by F.E. Hutchinson, copyright 1941. This, of course, is the definitive modern edition of Herbert’s work and for many, many years, it was my prized possession. When I say my prized possession, I mean it was a book that I literally clung to. It went with me on every trip. It was always there near by bedside. I had read it through—yes, even the Latin poetry of Hebert—several times over. It was as familiar to me as the back of my hand.
Well, I very stupidly lent it to a friend many years ago (I thought I was only lending it for a day or two, and even doing that was difficult) and my friend, while moving, lost the book. I mourned for that book when it was lost.
Well, last week, this friend of mine was unpacking a box of books and found my edition of Herbert and sent it to me. It was like manna from heaven to receive it on Monday. It came into otherwise somewhat personally tumultuous day. And as I was reading through that familiar book, with its familiar smells and its familiar fonts, I realized: oh, yes, this will keep me going for a long time.
The next day, after my somewhat difficult day on Monday, I was finding solace in my newly recovered Herbert and I came upon this line from the poem, “The Flower”:
“O my onely light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.”
That spoke to me in way it never had before and I realized, yes, this is what will keep me afloat for a while.
This is how God works sometimes. For us, we need to remind ourselves of where our strength lies. Our strength lies not in frivolous things. Our strength lies not in ephermeral things. Our strength lies with those things that save our lives on days when we think we’ve lost everything. Our strength lies in that God who truly is like a rock—a sturdy, immovable Presence. Our strength is in a God who doesn’t magically rescue us from the hardships of this life.
Our God doesn’t magically make the dark days of Holy Week disappear. Our God rather provides us with the strength to survive the darkness of Holy Week. Our God provides us with that faint glow in the midst of that darkness—that glimmer of Easter light in the darkest depth of Good Friday afternoon.
As we head through these last days of Lent and into Holy Week, we do so girded with strength. We do so, knowing where our strength lies. We do so knowing exactly what is saving our lives these days. We do so being reminded by this God of strength and hope that darkness is not eternal. That pain and suffering are only temporary. We do so reminded that light and joy and glory and salvation are eternal. They will, one day, be granted to us and there will be no end to them.
For me, and hopefully for all of who call ourselves Christians, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, this is what sustains us. This is what holds us up. This is what saves us when the darkness encroaches.
There is a strange pleasure we can take, in these last days of Lent, as we approach the long, hard week of Holy Week, when we can, echoing Isaiah, knowing what holds us up, knowing what saves us when the darkness draws close, find praise on our lips. There is a certain pleasure we can take when, even then, we can still find joy in our hearts:
“Shout aloud and sing for joy…
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”