January 31, 2021 Sermon & Worship Link

“Wholehearted Hallelujah!”

Scripture Reading: Psalm 111

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One of my favourite moments in the Church year is that moment on Easter Sunday when the first strains of the organ are heard.  The gathered community rises and together we sing Jesus Christ is Risen today followed by a whole hearted “Hallelujah!”  So crucial is that moment in our collective life, that over the years we have at times intentionally boxed up our Hallelujahs at the beginning of the season of Lent, holding them back for 40 days and six Sundays, so that when they are released in the assembly on Easter morning, we really do free them with hearts that are full.

But what I have known to be true over the years, is that even though the calendar may say it’s Easter Sunday, not everyone in the gathered assembly feels that wholehearted joy, because for whatever reason they are still living in the season of Lent.

That might best describe how we’ve been living this past year.  Happy anniversary by the way, today, which is actually Thursday in real time, is the one- year anniversary of the first identified case of Covid-19 here in British Columbia.

Easter Sunday, 2020 came just under three months after we were told on January 28, 2020 that this new corona virus wasn’t much of a threat to our public safety.  Easter 2020 was just 4 Sundays after we had gone into lockdown.  So it’s fair to say that although we unboxed our Hallelujahs on Easter Sunday, 2020 we didn’t really fully release them.  Despite all our 7pm pot clanging bravado at that time, inside of most of us, a lingering sense of uncertainty was beginning to brew.  For the most part, we’re still holding onto our big hallelujah for our real Easter moment, which of course, we all presume will come when we are out the other side of this experience.

One of the reasons I know this is true is that just after Christmas, two weeks into the new year, I invited our Church Council to share with one another our Christmas Hallelujahs, the moments for which we really wanted to say “thanks!”  At first, it was extremely difficult for many of us in that circle to access a single Hallelujah from the season.

Today’s Psalm, Psalm 111, begins with the words “Alleluia!  I will thank you God with all my heart.”  Some translations of this text say “Alleulia! Praise the Lord!”  a phrase which so easily rolls of the tongue of some of our siblings in the Christian faith that it often seems disingenuous to me.  So in this time, when most of us are holding back our Hallelujahs for the big moment when we have arrived at the end of this Covid-19 journey we are on, I’m curious about how we might get to the place of letting out some authentically wholehearted Hallelujahs, before we arrive at the finish line of this race.

Those of us who live here in British Columbia have heard Dr. Bonnie Henry tell us that this race we are running is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.   Not only is it a marathon, it seems to me that just when the end of this race is in sight, (hallelujah! we have a vaccine) somebody down the road keeps moving the checkered flag and the race just keeps getting longer and longer.

I have to say that I don’t know if they even use checkered flags for marathons because I’ve never actually run a real marathon in my life.  When Dr. Bonnie said last fall that we are running a marathon together I got all excited and asked Carla “do you think we’ll get a t-shirt at the finish line?”  Because I know nothing about running marathons I thought it was all about the t-shirt.

So now that we are somewhere in the middle of our marathon and the finish line does seem to be a moveable target, I thought it might be a good idea to talk to some people who do run marathons to find out what it is that helps them keep going at the mid-point of the race, how they tend their hearts along the way, so that the race itself is full of wholeheartedness and not just the beginning or the end.

I got in touch with my friends Jeffery Smith and Susan Chambers who now live on the other side of the country but at one time lived in North Burnaby and were members of Mount Seymour.

They had some very good insights for me.  Susan said “there’s no flash and dash.  Marathoning is dark evenings and getting going when you don’t feel like getting going.  Marathoning is getting past I can’t run a marathon, but I can run the next block.”  “In the middle of the race,” she says “which is where we find ourselves in this cruel pandemic, or during it’s harder parts, one trick is simply to visualize getting to the next marker, tree, or end of block which breaks things down into eminently do-able pieces. In the marathon, an interesting thing happens about Mile 17 or 18, which is that one’s body cries out to stop.   It’s known as hitting the wall.”

I don’t know about you but when I heard Dr. Henry say earlier this week “we have to do more” I think I hit my wall.  “What more are we supposed to be doing?” I heard myself saying out loud. “We’re already doing everything we can.” 

Not only does the finish line keep moving but the reality of life, birth and death and sinister diagnoses and relationship breakdowns and more, all of that, just keeps coming at us like an oil slick being poured on the race route in front of us.  How much more can we do?

It was good for me to hear Jeffery talk about the importance of pacing ourselves in a race, being steady.  “Do that” he said  “by being mindful of small moments, because the greater result can seem so far away:  The view of the street, a quiet word to a runner briefly or for many miles beside you, reveals that this can actually be done.  The finish line will take care of itself.”

This morning, to mark the occasion of the one year anniversary since British Columbia declared it’s first known case of Covid-19, Dr. Bonnie was interviewed on CBC radio.  She was asked about the “more” we are being asked to do and as is often the case with Dr. Bonnie, I was amazed by the simplicity of her reply.  “We can reach out and support each other” she said and then she added “of course those who are not already doing what everyone else is already doing could do more.”

We could reach out and support each other, perhaps, like Jeffery suggested, offer a quiet word of encouragement to those running the race beside us.

I wonder if we could also pace ourselves by paying attention to what’s around us like both Jeff and Susan suggested helps when you are running a marathon.  To mark each day with the goodness we see in front of us.  To take the advice of the psalmist and give thanks for God’s great works: to remember that God is compassion and love; to remember that we are a covenant people, a people bound up in a promise that God is always with us; to remember to celebrate the victories of truth and justice that are unfolding in our midst even when that road seems very long and the finish line far away.

This is not the time for us to hold our breath until we make it to the end.  This is the time for us to pay attention and to give thanks, each day, every day for God’s good and gracious works, so that instead of ending this race with an accumulation unmet needs and wants, we finish well.

One of the practices that our “Meeting the Beloved” group has been engaged in over the last five months, is a weekly and sometimes daily review that invites us to notice and give thanks for what is being given and revealed to us.  The invitation I have extended to the group is not to give thanks for what they think they should give thanks for but rather to allow gratitude to rise up within them from their heart center.  I wonder if we might do that together now.  Take a moment to be still and allow a gratitude to rise up from our hearts.  Alleluia.

In the church we say that every Sunday is a mini-Easter, a celebration of the truth that life is stronger than death, hope more powerful than despair and love more than capable of overcoming any and all things that are hateful and wrong.  We come together in the assembly, week after week to remind ourselves of who and whose we are and what, therefore, we are capable of doing and being.  We come to steady ourselves, to find our stride, and to set our life’s pace.  We come to notice the marks of grace around us, to give thanks and to condition our hearts for the long run.  We come to breathe in and breathe out a wholehearted and genuine Hallelujah.