12th SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 30/08/2020: ROMANS 12:9-21; MATTHEW16:21-28
The F Word – Deacon Christine Saccali
I speak in the name of the Triune God Father, Son and Holy Spirit
How are you? It has been a strange summer and year so far, hasn’t it? When I ask the question, ‘ How are you ?’ most people answer up and down and I understand exactly what they mean ανεβοκατεβασματα, a lovely word in Greek,meaning literal or life’s ups and downs.
Our continuing gospel passage from Matthew, a hinge chapter, set for this week encapsulates all the remaining chapters. Jesus is warning and pointing his disciples to what is to come in Jerusalem. He is also saying that his followers need to bear their own cross with all its ups and downs on the path of life.
Particularly, during these COVID times and pandemic when the virus seems to be on a second wave in Europe and high number of cases recorded worldwide we are riding the rollercoaster waves of fear and fragility the F words. Going one step forward and two back. We may think these words frightened and frail have no place in our prayer vocabulary, but actually it is exactly when we feel frightened and fragile that we cry out to God and lament our mortality and the plight of the world and its people. Such lament and cries is common in the psalms. Let us listen to a lockdown psalm, a version of Psalm 121 by Martin Wroe:
Outside I cover my face
My friends become danger
I become threat, I step aside.
Hold my breath as you pass
Inside these walls close in,
This safety and this cage
Inside, we’re too close
And, a little distant,
Inside, I’m alone, I’m scared.
I lift up my eyes from this lockdown
I thought plagues were the tantrums
Of a petulant god, we no longer believe in.
So why can’t I see the elderly
Hold my grandchildren
Except on the screen
That frees me as it captures me.
I lift up my eyes,
They are wet from my tears
My days slip through these dried out bent fingers
From whence will my help come?
To carry me or hold me
Or just look toward me,
With Faith, Hope and Love?
Is that too much to ask?
Is that a prayer?
My help comes in a window box
The shy defiance of a budding flower
On the street, the mauve wisteria, showing off
The discreet conversation of the trees
The dance of every season,
The dawn, the dusk
How they carry us
My help comes from inside PPE
From those who care and those who heal,
And a friend who calls across the way,
My help comes from those who listen
When I no longer make sense
Who wash me clean, and break a broken blessing over me.
Who walk beside us when we die,
They neither slumber nor sleep
How they carry us.
My help comes with those who love me
I hold them tenderly, in all this silence,
That cradles all the sorrow, all the loss,
All this love in all this life.
How this carries us.
I hold them all, they hold me
Wherever I go they go with me
At my going out and my coming in
Even when I cannot catch another breath
Still, they breathe my life,
That i may breathe easy again.
I lift my eyes and see
That love will seek our lives
From this time forth forever more.
Now I had the most extraordinary fortune to be able to go away twice during my leave this last month. Earlier this year I had thought I would not manage my annual retreat as I am not travelling far at the moment and retreat houses are closed due to COVID but when my widowed friend offered me a week in her village house in the mountains in the Peloponnese I jumped at the chance. She needed the company as our friend George died early in 2017 and I needed a safe break combining peace and quiet, the mountains and sea. Our coastline near home was polluted after the Evia floods earlier this month making swimming nearby undesirable. I am truly thankful for the extended time of leave enabling me to rest and relax in the verdant mountains but not too far from the sea.
I love the hills and Psalm 121 the lockdown psalm we heard talks about lifting out eyes up. Another kind of up and down moving our gaze from the everyday to the divine. I have always been fortunate to live near hills both in UK and mountains in Greece. So when we arrived in Aghia Sofia in the Peloponnese between Astros and Tripoli, we opened up the house and sat down on the veranda drinking a cool vissinada, home made cherry juice. Against a brilliant blue sky, I spotted a bird of prey circling. It was an eagle with young ones. A special moment which was not repeated during our stay. It made me think of the verse in Isaiah 40:31 ‘ But those who hope in the lord shall renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Other highlights of the stay were the solace of deep silence. One does not really hear birds there – small ones I mean, but you may see traces of wild boar or hear jackals. I did not hear hunters but the season has started.
Now we know and are told that there is a time and a season for everything and all things and time itself belongs to God, the Creator of all. I think the answer to life’s ups and downs and the cross we bear is to be found in the passage of instructions from our continuing study of Paul’s letter to the Romans:
“Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, love one another with mutual affection; outdone another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”
I urge you to read all the verses again and again at home as a manual for these up and down times, carrying the cross your cross and to ask others the simple question ‘How are you?’
Let us end with a prayer;
Lord, how are you answering our prayers?
Is it with:
‘ Eagles’ wings for the exhausted?
Peace be still for the storm tossed
New every morning mercies for the bewildered?
Jesus wept for the bereaved?
I am always with you for the isolated?
Lord, help us to believe the answers that we cannot see.
Jesus said; Blessed are those who have not seen, yet who believe.