The Rev. Barbara Hutchinson, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
“In those days”. In those days, when God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. “In those days” darkness covered the face of the deep, chaos abounded, and God intervened and said, “let there be light”. God continued creating and delighted with each step of creation shouting “and it was good”, until God created humankind and then said, “and this is very good”. The first covenant was formed between God and humankind and it was born from God’s sense of hopefulness, exuberance, and never-ending creativity, and it was infused with God’s love. God’s covenant was simple – be my people, care for my creation, and I will be your God. Let us be in relationship and let us delight in one another, human to human, human to God.
“In those days” In those days when Noah prepared to march up the plank into the ark, something had already gone terribly wrong with God’s people. The covenant between humankind and God had been broken. No longer could God say about humankind, “And this is very good.” There was bloodshed and violence in the land “in those days”, there was murder of one person made in the image of God of another person made in the image of God and God grieved. Darkness covered the land, chaos abounded and God chose to intervene. God revised God’s covenant with God’s people, repeating some parts of the original covenant, such as “be fruitful and multiply” yet added an emphasis on the sanctity of human life. We were not to murder one another, for that counted as a crime against God, for each person was beloved and made in God’s image. In God’s revised covenant, God made it clear that what we do to each other, we do to God. In the face of this darkness, God said, “let there be light” and God gathered a faithful remnant, Noah and his descendants, and promised to never destroy the earth, but to keep on loving humankind, no matter what, even as they chose to live in the darkness. This story of Noah was written by the Israelites as they sat along the river bank in Babylon, the faithful remnant of the people of God, exiled, oppressed, and weary from despair. They desperately desired God to intervene as they wrote the story of Noah. They wanted to believe the light will shine again, the voice of God will be heard again, and they could return home to a place of shalom or peace, and God again could say, “And it was very good.”
“In those days”. In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee to be baptized by John in the Jordan. “In those days” the voice of God had once again grown silent. When we look at that block of history before Jesus’ birth, we notice a spiritual dryness, a desolate wilderness where God’s people had again turned away from, even against, God’s way. There were only vague remembrances of the former prophets, the ones like Nathan who resolutely stood up to King David and blasted him on his inappropriate behavior with Bathsheba, or Amos who lamented and cried out to God’s people that God was disgusted with them for they were only giving God lip service and didn’t follow through with hearts. “In those days” when Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee to be baptized by John in the Jordan, the souls of God’s people had dried up. There was oppression by the Roman Empire, corruption in the religious system, and an ever-widening chasm between those who considered themselves pure and those they condemned as impure. Violence and darkness covered the land. The people of God had turned from God’s ways, and God chose to intervene. As Jesus broke the surface of the water in the River Jordan, as he took his first breath of his new life and ministry, and the heavens were ripped apart by God, and God’s voice bellowed from the heavens, “This is my beloved”, Jesus became the new covenant between God and God’s people. Love flooded into the world, redeeming it through the renewal of God’s promise that never again would God destroy God’s people, rather God would love them, even within the darkness that covered the land. “In those days”, God opened the way for life out of death, righteousness out of sinfulness, light out of darkness – not just for a faithful remnant, this time, again as in creation, for all humankind.
“In those days.” In those days, in which we find ourselves living, during this truth-telling season of Lent, we can name and call out the darkness we find in the land – the rampant violence and the bloodshed, the nearly daily shootings in our schools where our precious children, those made in the image of God, are being murdered and families are being ripped apart by grief, the vulgarity of language which seems to have become normative in those we would want to respect, the predatory and exploitative behavior found in all arenas of life, and the horrible force of addiction which is robbing us of a generation of young people due to the opioid crisis, the endless wars, the fires, earthquakes and hurricanes which have destroyed our lands and the willful destruction of God’s own creation at our own hand. Our days seem very much like the days when darkness covered the earth before God began creating and called forth life, very much like the days before Noah when there was violence and bloodshed and murder had been introduced in the land, and like the days before Jesus when there was corruption and oppression, often done in the name of God. In this truth-telling season of Lent, as hard as it is to our souls, there is wisdom and actually grace in naming the hardness, the spiritual dryness, and the darkness that at times covers the face of our earth. This is when the spiritual practice of lament is useful, a crying out from the depths of our souls that something has gone terribly wrong.
And this is also when it is helpful to remember that Lent is not a static place for the soul. It is a journey. So when we name the places of separation of God’s people from God’s ways, we know we are not called to stay here, but rather to move from there, into the light, into the creative ways of God, into the path of love.
During this season of Lent, when we hold the hard truth of our darkness which covers the land before us, we also must hold the truth of God’s lightness before us. For as God’s voice boomed from the heavens as Jesus rose from the waters and named Jesus as God’s own beloved, so that is true for us – for we are joined to Jesus in our baptism, we are raised with Jesus in his resurrection, and we too can claim that voice of God, booming from the heavens that we are God’s beloved. We too are God’s beloved. I hope and pray that you know that truth deep within your soul, for if we didn’t truly believe this, if we didn’t truly believe God’s promise of the rainbow that God would rather love us into being again and as many times as it may take, rather than destroy the earth, then how could we ever look at the world’s brokenness and not be wearied and destroyed by our own despair? I honestly do not know how people who have no faith, who have no awareness or acknowledgment that they are God’s beloved son or daughter, can manage life “in those days” – “in these days” when darkness seems to cover the land.
With Jesus, God created once again a new covenant, one that is given to us in our baptism, strengthened in us through the Eucharist, and shared by us with each other in community. Sometimes, I admit, it feels like those of us who want to move into the light and grace of God, those who what to make the world a different place, those who refuse to accept the degradation of people and oppression as the norms, those who want to protect the lives of our young people in schools, those who want to eradicate the predatory behavior from our daily lives, are the small and faithful remnant, but even if that is true, then that’s okay. Because God’s covenant with us, made through the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, propels us into the light, grounds us in the promise of the rainbow, and reminds us of the voice at our baptism that boomed from the heavens, “You are still my beloved.”
This season of Lent I am going to tell the truth, to myself, to others, and to God. The truth of the world as I see it, the truth of the chaos and darkness which surrounds me and at times resides within me. And I am going to reach for the light. I am going to hear the words of God calling us each as God’s own beloved and know it with the same certainty and directness Jesus had as he broke the water’s surface and heard God’s voice. Jesus needed to hear those words of love and affirmation at the moment he launched his ministry, so he would always know who he was, always know he was beloved, no matter what happens, no matter what others say to him in mockery, or no matter who puts him to death. God’s words to us are for that same purpose – that we can hear this voice of affirmation as God’s beloved no matter what happens.
Lent is a journey. We are to name the truth and then move on. We are to remember God’s voice at our baptism, when we are marked as Christ’s own forever. When we are surrounded by the wilderness of life, as Jesus was, with the wild beasts and the temptations in the desert, we are to call that truth from our soul and know that while something has gone terribly wrong, God has not forsaken us, for we are God’s beloved. Even in the midst of the worst chaos we can imagine, God will not forget us. God will continue to love us. This is what enables us to be honest with ourselves, to faithfully walk the journey of Lent, to tell the truth of the falseness which we have become to ourselves, each other, and to God. We need to hear and believe God’s voice, booming from the heavens, “You are my beloved”, and then live it and declare its truth for every woman, man and child, who is, was, or ever shall be. Amen.