Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
Watch video or read below
When the pandemic first occurred, and I knew we would be sheltering in place, I immediately thought of Judah’s captivity and exile in Babylon. The focus of my thought wasn’t so much on the suffering of God’s people who were being subjugated by the Babylonians. Instead, I kept thinking about the resistant journey to an unknown place. Psalm 137 reflects the feeling of loss, fear, intimidation, and longing they felt.
By the rivers 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? Psalm 137:1-4
I’m struck by the fact they brought their harps. Perhaps they thought the situation was temporary. What they experienced was going to be a momentary disruption. Perhaps they just wanted to take something familiar with them, something they knew how to do. Maybe they thought, “We better bring our harps, because we can sing anywhere!” I’m not sure what it took for the reality of permanent change to take hold. But miles into the journey, the image of weeping willows caused the new reality to set in. They wept there. They hung up their harps there.
Robert Foltz-Morrison, my colleague in the Presbytery of New York, speaks of this time as a cocoon period. He says that he doesn’t know who we will be on the other side of this metamorphosis, but he knows it will be different, and it will be beautiful.
During their captivity, Israel had to learn a new way to worship that did not include the temple. They cultivated the idea of portable worship, which is synagogue. When God brought them out of Babylon and back to the land of Judah, they kept the notion of synagogue, and it is part of the Jewish tradition today.
I do not know what church will look like on the other side of this pandemic. I am not sure what we will carry forward, and what we will leave behind. I know that God will be with us for God is faithful and will never leave us or forsake us. And I know it will be beautiful. Amen.
Rev. Craig M. Howard