By the waters of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest.”  - Psalm 137:1-6

The first time I remember hearing Psalm 137, I was in college.  My home church was burned down by an arsonist. That first Sunday we gathered for worship in a neighboring church, this was the passage from which our Pastor preached. We were mourning the loss of our church sanctuary, our place of worship, our faith home. 

It came back to me in this time as we mourn not being able to physically gather in worship on Sundays as we had been before this pandemic hit.

This Psalm arises out of the exile experience of Israel when they were conquered and exiled to Babylon. The temple was destroyed and they were strangers in a strange land. It is a Psalm of lament. We do not often speak of lament in church, but there are times when, as the people of God, we cry out in our sorrow and grief.

Laments are prayers spoken or sung to God. Laments are both personal and communal. They are petitions to God that come out of real need. We lament what we see happening in the world – the suffering that COVID19 has brought about, not only with those who are sick, those grieving the death of loved ones, but the toll it has taken on healthcare workers, first responders, truck drivers, store clerks, factory workers, and all who have found themselves unemployed during this outbreak and shutdown. We lament the long lines of people seeking food for their families at food banks and for those who are unable to pay their rent. We lament not going to our office or place of work or of having work, contributing our gifts and skills, and being part of the world of commerce at large. We lament with all seniors in High School who will be foregoing those celebrations they have looked forward to for four years – attending Prom, getting yearbooks signed, graduation ceremonies with family celebrations and parties with friends. Even our college seniors will not have the grand graduation for which they had hoped.

We mourn life as we knew it – when we were employed, when we gathered with our larger family to celebrate birthdays, holidays and reunions, when we shopped without distancing ourselves from others, when grocery store shelves were full and we found whatever we needed, when we hopped on a plane for a spring break or summer vacation destination, when we went out with friends for lunch and dinner, or went to ballgames, our kids’ soccer and football matches or theatre productions and band concerts, and when we could worship together in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings.

We feel shut out from the life we once knew. We feel lonely and uncertain, longing for the way life was before COVID19 blanketed the world, hungering and thirsting for the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation we know in Christ and share together. And in our longing, remembering what we so blithely took for granted and now have learned to treasure – our freedom, our community, being with one another, especially in worship.

Yet, our God does not abandon us in this exile and time of lament. Our God is ever a God of hope. Out of the depths of grief on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the resurrection of Christ our Lord brings the joy of life anew, that the impossible is possible, that we will be restored and made new. 

We move from suffering to faith. And in faith there is hope. We lament in order to hope, trusting in our always faithful, trustworthy God, who has shown us in the risen Christ that hope lives and breathes, and new life comes to us. There will come the day when there is no more mourning or crying or pain or death.

As I write this, I know not when we will be able to slowly, physically gather together in worship and fellowship again. In the meanwhile, we lament – communicating our grief in prayer to God and seeing this time as an opportunity to confess our faith, our trust, our hope in God who is ever with us and for us and who so loves us. We hold hope in our hearts, knowing that the risen Christ is with us always, as he promised so long ago before his ascension. Christ is always with us even through this time of exile. And we look to the day when we will physically be together again.

In this time of exile, may we see what God is bringing to us – gratitude for each day, that we are more dependent upon God than ourselves, to truly see what is most important to us, to allow trust to grow, to be in touch with hope, to deepen our faith through prayer and yes, even lament to express our pain and longing, and to be open to the newness of life God is working in our lives and world – even though it may look different. 

May we hold one another in thought and prayers. May we reach out and encourage each other, our neighbors and store clerks. May we be lead to find new and creative ways to serve those around us. May we smile at the stranger who walks past our house and wave a greeting to one another while donning a mask. 

And with hope in our hearts, may we patiently and faithfully await the day when we can worship together in person. Praying for you. Missing you and your faces. Holding you close in the love of Christ our Lord.  - Pastor Barbara

Rev. Barbara Bartholomew, Associate Pastor of Visitation