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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

THOUGHTS ON THE LECTIONARY PASSAGES FOR THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST—(JULY 1, 2012)—BY JIM OGDEN

Lectionary Scriptures: II Samuel 1:1, 17-27 AND Psalm 130:1-8,Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 OR Lamentations 3:22-33 AND Psalm 30:1-12,, II Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43

One of my grandfathers died in a tragic farm accident when I was nine years old.  I spent a lot of time on that dairy farm, playing in the barn and running around the orchard.  I dearly loved that man, but I was too young to know how to grieve.

In my thirties when I going through an intense career assessment experience that involves hours of testing and counseling, lots of old memories were dredged up.  After the first of three days, I dreamed about my grandfather’s house all afire. I woke, sat up, and turned to my wife, saying, “I need to cry for my grandfather.”

There’s something in us that experiences great loss when someone we love dies.  Grieving seems to be an essential part of the human makeup.  Some of us come to it with a Christian faith that says death is not the final word.  Some are uncomfortable in the presence of tears and want to find a way to bring them to an end.  We try to make a Christian funeral an occasion for celebration, and so it can be, but sometimes it is approached in a way that suppresses the grief.  Unfortunately it is not buried with the body, forever to remain out of sight.  It will likely resurface some day in some way.

“This too shall pass” or similar words are often offered as comfort to those who are in the middle of grieving.  They may not seem, at the time, like much comfort, as if we are being rushed into forgetting what we have lost, the good with the bad.  At the same time, “This too shall pass” seems to be a theme found in several of this week’s lectionary readings.  They are about death and grief—the celebration and hope that surround those moments, which, in the long scale of time are but for a moment.

The reading from II Samuel records a response by David to the death of Saul and his son, Jonathan, both killed in battle.  (I Samuel 31:1-II Samuel 1:1) David sings a song of praise.  (II Samuel 1:17-18)  He overlooks the conflicts he has had with Saul, the division that arose between Saul and his son because of Jonathan’s love for David.  Memorial services tend to do that, and maybe they are not the time to find healing for those wounds.  We need to find it sometime in some way, though.

On this occasion, David sings, “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!  In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.  O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul ...”  (vss. 23-24)   David’s grief is intensified because of his close relationship with Jonathan, mentioned in last week’s blog.  He cries out, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”  (vs. 26)

(We should note that another theme that could be picked up in this song David sings is the seeming futility of war.  Three times he cries out, “How the mighty have fallen!”  (vss. 19, 25, & 27)   In verse 27, he adds, “the weapons of war perished!”   How that phrase cries out for comment!  Does war reduce human beings so that they are described simply as “weapons of war”?   Is it only when the mighty fall that we consider making this the last of all wars in which human life is lost?)

Others of the readings are written during a time of grief but hold the promise of another day.  Psalm 130 begins with these words: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.”   The writer is longing for something better, waiting “more than those who watch for the morning.”  (vs. 6, see also vss. 4-5)   If the implication of morning after the lingering darkness is implicit in Psalm 130, it is explicit in Psalm 30.  “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning ... You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”  (vss. 5 & 11)   The reading from Lamentations declares that God’s mercies “are new every morning.”  (Lamentations 3:22-230

The Gospel reading from Mark, chapter 5, is another of those troubling stories of miraculous healing and resurrection—one bracketed within another.  Jairus comes to Jesus because his daughter “is at the point of death.”  He wants Jesus to come lay his hands on her, “so that she may be made well, and live.”  (vs. 23)   On the way a woman “suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years” touches his cloak and is healed.  (vss. 25-29)   By the time Jesus reaches Jairus’ home, there is full-blown grief because they believe that his daughter has already died.  (vss. 35-38)   Jesus says, “No, she’s just sleeping.”   He goes in, takes her hand, and tells her to get up, which she does.  (vss. 40-42)

I don’t really know what to make of all this.  I observe that faith is involved.  Jesus says to the woman who touched him, “Daughter, your faith has made you well ...”  (vs. 34)   I notice that touch is important, the woman touching Jesus, Jesus taking the hand of Jairus’ daughter.  Even the sophisticated and educated healing professionals of our day recognize the power of touch during suffering and grief (and other times, for that matter).  Sometimes the best thing we can do when someone is grieving is to touch them, just a gentle touch on the shoulder or maybe a hearty hug.  A colleague once told me, several years after a time of deep grief he was going through, that he remembered how I touched him when I met him in the hall one day.  He remembered it as a healing moment.

The most important thing I take from stories such as these is the truth that suffering and death are not the final word about what happens to us human beings.  They are things that will pass.  Others of this week’s readings make it clear that they are not what God desires for us.  The Wisdom of Solomon says, “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.”  (Wisdom of Solomon 1:13)   The reading from Lamentations ends with the declaration the God “does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.”  (Lamentations 3:33)   Psalm 30 says, “For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime.”  (Psalm 30:5)   This too shall pass!

The epistle reading from II Corinthians doesn’t seem to fit the theme.  It is about following the example of Christ who, “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”  (II Corinthians 8:9)   Paul has been collecting money to assist those in need in Jerusalem.   (See 8:1-6 and 9:1-5)   The Macedonian Christians have responded generously.  Now it is the Corinthians turn.  “Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.”  (8:1)   It is a matter of fairness—“a fair balance between your present abundance and their need . . . As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’” (vss. 13-15)

It is a reminder that we are here as a resource of support and encouragement to one another.  It’s how God’s love—demonstrated in Jesus Christ—works.  It applies when we are grieving as well as when we are in physical need.  Through our touch and our songs and our presence we bear testimony to the fact that “This too shall pass!”

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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