“The bird sings in the morning to celebrate that it survived another night.”
I have a sense that there are many leaders and members of our congregations who are breathing a sigh of relief that the Government is beginning to lift restrictions on gathering. It feels like the early morning bird-song, even before it is light. A song of hope and trust that the night is almost over.
In the midst of that hopeful joy and joyful hope, it is difficult to breathe a word of caution. It also feels somewhat counterintuitive to suggest we should pause and take stock - haven’t we been doing that for the past three months or more?
At the end of last week, the Moderator sent out a pastoral letter. As I read it, he reminded me of the exodus story, and that the people wandering in the wilderness for forty years were waiting for a future. The Hebrew people, an assortment of slaves who had spent generations serving the desires of the Egyptians, were released out of Egypt. They went with a song in their hearts - they had survived the ‘night’ and daytime was coming. Their faithlessness prevented them immediately entering the future God had promised them. They had lessons to learn first.
One of the lessons was about being the People of God. This bunch of (ex)slaves needed to be formed into a nation. They had to become a community, and learn to trust each other, Moses, and the God who called them. It was an important time for them to learn how much they could and were meant to rely on God.
I wonder how much we are allowing God to shape us into the Pilgrim People we have been called to be as we spend time in this current wilderness? How much have we turned our focus to centring ourselves in God and growing in our discipleship? I have heard exciting and faith-filled stories of whole communities who have been using this time of physical distancing and not being able to gather for worship to engage in daily study and devotions, sharing in the same resources that have been distributed to them. The stories go on to talk about entire families who have engaged in devotional life together and have grown closer with one another, and closer with God. These communities and families are allowing themselves to be re-formed into the people of God, and preparing themselves to live into the future we have been promised. They bring joy to my soul!
Returning to the comment in the Moderator’s letter that has continued to burn in my heart since reading it, there is another lesson the people had to learn. In the wilderness, they were waiting for a future. Not just “any” future, they were waiting for the future God promised they would find. Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980 offered a poem in a sermon right before he was assassinated. The final line of his poem is: “We are prophets of a future not our own.” Somehow these two things are inextricably linked in my mind.
It very much feels like we have been waiting these last months for the future. We have been longing and hoping for the ‘night’ of physical distancing restrictions to be over. There have also been many conversations and much dreaming about what that future might look like, how it might need to be shaped, and how we need to prepare for it. The more I have been involved in the discussions and thinking and preparing for this future, the more I have agreed with Archbishop Romero - we are prophets of a future not our own. The future we are being called into does not belong to us. It belongs to those who come after us. What God requires of us now is to ensure we do all in our power - or rather, all we can in the power and strength of the Holy Spirit - to build the best possible foundation to ensure the future for those who will come after us.
When we relinquish our hold on the future, we will be able to put aside what we want it to be for ourselves, and be free to imagine the future as God wants it to be … for our children and our children’s children. When we relinquish our expectations, we find we are invited into a new day filled with light and hope and joy. Of course it can be scary to let go of what we have known and imagine something new, and it can be stressful to wait in this pre-dawn era and not rush to return to what is familiar and comfortable for us, but maybe that is when the night will be over, and we will join our voices in singing the dawn music: there is a new song to sing - it is the Lord’s song of future filled with hope. May our voices rise to fill the air and bring joy to all who hear it.
Blessings and peace,