December 6, 2020
Joel 2:12-13, 28-29
It seems that whenever someone suffered a deeply personal loss in the Old Testament … when someone was grieving … that there is a public display of mourning.
This is when the person rends their clothes … when they rip their garments apart … letting loose their pain and emotions.
The action lets the world know that the person is suffering and it was part of a ritual that people were expected to follow.
Besides tearing at their clothing, the person was expected to fast, weep and wail … perhaps questioning why God has brought such suffering into the person’s life or into the life of the community … perhaps questioning where God was in the midst of it all.
Over the past couple of Sundays, we’ve heard the story of a people in exile … disconnected from the faith community and from their homeland and its people.
The people were experiencing a loss … they were each grieving in their own ways.
There was a sense that God … rightly or wrongly … had abandoned the people.
Jerusalem and the Temple are largely abandoned and lay in ruins.
By the time we get to Joel, the land had been looted and some of what remained had been burned over the years … of animals that cry out for water … the land and the people are in distress … filled with sadness and darkness.
Scattered across the region, how could the people properly worship God?
And, how could they truly worship God from a place of scarcity? They wouldn’t have anything to offer to God … no sacrifices … no burnt offerings … not even a suitable place to worship.
And if they cannot worship properly … if they couldn’t follow tradition … perform the proper rituals … then how can they repair their relationship with God? How can they make it right again? And, without this relationship, how can the claim to be God’s people?
The exiled people are mired in grief.
The people are suffering a loss of home … of identity … of the familiar … of tradition and ritual … and of faith.
Years after being taken away by the land’s conquerors, they are grieving and, perhaps, still searching for a way to mourn properly … searching for answers.
Joel gives voice to the people’s sadness and lament. He gives voice to their sense of loss, pain and grief.
Last Wednesday, Lutheran clergy met with Bishop Mike and the principal dean of Martin Luther University College to discuss how pastors minister during a time of pandemic.
As preparation for the meeting, pastors were asked to watch a video presentation from the Glebe Centre at Martin Luther.
Susan Cadell, a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Waterloo, was one of the speakers in the presentation.
Cadell says that grief doesn’t just happen after death … it happens after any type of loss. … the loss of a job … the loss of freedom … loss of identity … even after the loss of a tradition or a routine.
In the presentation, Cadell called on people to think of grief differently.
It was a discussion about the grief that pastors feel over the changes forced upon congregational life by the Covid pandemic. Like everyone else, pastors have had to adapt the way they minister.
Central to the discussion was the grief congregation members are feeling as the form of worship changes … as connections weaken and as some congregations even disappear – washed away by Covid.
Pastors and congregations have both had to deal with their sense of loss and move through the grief process.
The pandemic has created such a sense of loss among people that grief is all around us, she told the session.
And this grief can affect our physical, emotional and spiritual systems and it affects each of us differently and leads us to grieve in different ways.
Some people keep themselves occupied with tasks … others fight to control the uncontrollable situation … others may deny that anything has changed and that it’s business as usual … others accept the reality of the situation and adapt.
But each one is part of a process … a transformational process
Back in 1969, psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross developed what has become known as the five stages of grief.
The people in exile likely went through each of these stages as they wondered about their new reality and the life that lay ahead.
Like Joel and the people of his time, we find ourselves in a period of grief.
If we are honest with ourselves, we can recognize which stage we have already passed through or what stage we currently occupy and recognize these stages within others as we transition toward the “new normal.”
Once we make this recognition, we can discern how to minister to that grief.
Each of us here today … whether in-person or online … are grieving.
During the past eight months, we have experienced the loss of our freedom of movement as we have been restricted to our bubbles and asked to keep our distance from one another whenever we are out in public.
We are grieving the loss of routine … of the rituals … that marked our old lives.
We are grieving the loss of the old way of doing church … the loss of our connection to our ministry … the loss of our familiar connections to one another … the loss of the usual rituals we practise each Sunday … the loss of familiar faces.
Finding peace within ourselves and processing this grief becomes tougher as the pandemic grinds on.
But Joel offers some guidance.
In today’s passage, we hear the Lord’s call … to a people who believe that they have been forsaken … forgotten.
“Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.”
… rend your hearts.
As we move through the season of Advent, we are called to prepare our hearts.
Like the people in Joel’s community, we are invited to lament … to mark the sadness and loss we each feel. It’s a time to give voice to our own brokenness and the brokenness in the world.
It is an opportunity to rend our hearts and move on in the mourning process … to transition into something new.
When this passage was first uttered and put to parchment, the heart was not the centre of feelings as we’ve come to think of it.
The heart was the seat of a person’s courage, purpose and determination.
Through Joel, God calls on the people to shed the clutter from their hearts … and to reset their hearts’ purpose upon living a life defined by God’s expectation rather than by the world’s desires and expectations.
When we do this … we are preparing the way for the light that is to come at the end of this season of Advent.
We are called to prepare our hearts to receive the promise of the new life that fills us with anticipation and empowering us to move into a new reality … a new normal … a life that is filled with hope … love … and peace.
May you each feel God’s grace fill your hearts and live as we move through the coming days and allow yourselves to be gentle with yourselves and be at peace.