Singing in a Strange Land

In his recent letter to the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reflects on a verse from Psalm 137: "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" When our Jewish ancestors in faith asked that question thousands of years ago during their exile in Babylon, they no longer had the opportunity to worship in the temple they loved. All their normal ways of praying and gathering as God's people had ceased. So, they asked: What do we do now? How can we worship God in this time of tremendous loss, and in a strange land?

We too are in a strange land as we navigate the new world this pandemic presents us. How do we deal with seeing other people with their faces veiled with protective coverings? How do we find ways to get our basic supplies? For those of us who must continue to work outside our homes, how do we do our jobs while keeping ourselves and our families safe? Especially for our faith community, we must ask: How do we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

Our ancestors learned that while they had experienced tremendous loss, their relationship with God was not lost-- it continued and was deepened in profound ways. In fact, their experiences meeting God apart from their temple and liturgical practices gave them new insights they could not have known before the experience of exile. Surprisingly they realized that God wasn't confined to a temple -- God went with them into exile. We too, new exiles, will learn new lessons in these days, and will also be able to mine our rich Anglican tradition for wisdom and strength.

As we have seen in the past few weeks, we have come together virtually in the strange land of the internet to engage in a liturgical practice that dates from the time of the earliest Christians, but made a central part of our worship at the time of the Reformation -- the use of the Daily Office, exploring the services of Morning and Evening Prayer and Compline. Each of you has had the opportunity to experience your home as the place where the church is because you are there and so is Christ. We encourage you to explore new ways you can make your home a place of prayer. We will be sending out some resources in the next days to assist you in that.

This week we will gather in whatever places we find ourselves to celebrate the greatest liturgies of our tradition. Holy Week is the most sacred time of the year and for us liturgical Christians, these days, especially the great three days that begin on the evening of Maundy Thursday through the evening of Easter Day, are the center of our life together as Christians. So, in these days especially: How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?

At St. John's in particular, Holy Week is the central experience of worship and community. There are so many practices we engage in, so many sights, sounds, smell, and tastes we won't have this year. There is indeed great loss. But the essence is not lost. The Holy Spirit is giving us a spiritual gift to see beyond the signs to the substance. Let's meet our Lord in these days more profoundly as we break open the bread of his most Holy Word. Let us use our sight and our imagination to once again remember the story of our redemption and let us meet his risen presence in our own hearts and homes.

We don't have a road map for these days -- neither did the Jewish people during the Babylonian exile, but God led them one step at a time. Today, as we write this reflection, the Church remembers the great monk and saint Richard of Chichester. He is most famous for a prayer that encourages us always to follow Christ in whatever the day will bring:

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us. Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.