FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Prayer of the Day: O God of peace, you brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep. By the blood of your eternal covenant, make us complete in everything good that we may do your will, and work among us all that is well-pleasing in your sight, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
“…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:17.
I used to do that for my own children whenever they suffered the pain and indignity of a skinned knee or bump on the head. Additionally, I would kiss the site of the wound, blow on it, give it a gentle rub and tell them everything was fine. It always worked. I think that was largely because, at the tender ages of three and four, they believed me when I told them I would take care of them, keep them safe and protect them from everything scary-including monsters lurking under the bed. I encouraged my children’s simplistic faith in my ability to protect them because I wanted them to feel safe, loved and secure in their home.
I often wondered, however, whether I was doing the right thing. Clearly, I was over promising. There are plenty of terrible things form which no parent can protect one’s children. Much goes wrong in the life of a daughter or son that mom and dad can’t fix. That became painfully evident to me the night my infant grandson Parker died a day after he came into the world. There was nothing I could say or do to take that pain away from my son, pain that I felt deeply myself. All I could do was hold him as we wept. In the final analysis, that’s all we really have to give our children.
I thought again about that dreadful night as I was reading our gospel lesson for this Sunday in which Jesus promises that “no one shall snatch [my sheep] out of my hand.” John 10:28. In the worst of times, we remain in the Triune embrace of our God. Or, as St. Paul puts it, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39. Tragedy, suffering, doubts, traumatic wounds and all kinds of evil are capable of causing us to doubt and perhaps lose altogether our trust in God and God’s goodness. But our salvation does not rest on the strength of our faith, but on the strength of God’s faithfulness. It is only because of God’s tenacious faithfulness that it is even possible for us to have faith.
But is a hug all that God has to give us in times of despair? I would rather say that a hug is the best God has to give us. The whole point of the Incarnation was to make it possible for God to hug us with human arms, love us with a human heart and dry the very tears from our eyes. The Book of Revelation, so frequently misused to support the lurid and bloody fundamentalist fantasies of global carnage, is actually summed up in just this: the horrors that have been inflicted upon us and the ones we have inflicted upon others will finally find healing in God’s eternal embrace. That’s not a quick fix, but it’s a real one.
Here is a poem/hymn by George Matheson giving profound expression to God’s stubborn and determined love that will not give up on us. (Sadly, it did not make the cut for the most recent hymnal of my church.)
O Love That Will Not Let Me Go
O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
Source: The lyrics of this hymn are in the public domain. George Matheson (1842-1906) was born in Glasgow, Scotland. His sight was impaired from birth and, by the time he entered his teenage years, he was nearly blind. In spite of this limitation he enrolled as a ministerial student at Glasgow University where he excelled in his studies. Matheson served several parishes in Glasgow and the surrounding area. In 1886 he became pastor of the large and prestigious St. Bernard’s Parish Church in Edinburgh. Matheson authored several books on theology and published one volume of poetry. It should be noted that Matheson received a great deal of assistance from his sister who learned Greek, Latin and Hebrew to help him through his theological studies and also helped with his pastoral responsibilities. You can read more about George Matheson in his biography, The Life of George Matheson, (c. 1957 by Hodder & Stoughton) available on line at this link.