April 5, 2020, Hungry For Grace, by Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Hungry for Grace St. Luke
Alone, but not alone, Jesus was doing some social distancing in his final days - not because of a virus it seems, but because of his need for prayer. He went up the mountain with his disciples to pray and told them to stay behind. He went to a place by himself to pray and came back to find the disciples sleeping. He felt so alone- and yet he knew that he was not alone.
Well, inevitably some people are feeling alone in the face of this pandemic. It’s so hard to think about people alone in the hospital, older folks in retirement homes not being able to accept visitors from their own relatives. Lisa told me that they wouldn’t let Rick in to see his mother on her birthday. He put on a mask and gloves, and snuck in to get her a cake. I’m not recommending such behavior, but I love the lengths some people will go.
Each week during Lent we have talked about our hunger, right? And each week, as the pandemic has become more severe, we have become hungrier for God’s presence, hungrier for God’s reassurance. You can imagine in an earlier time, when winter had gone on longer than people expected it to and the food was running out, people began to feel like God had abandoned them.
Well, we know from this passage in Matthew that even Jesus felt this kind of abandonment. Some modern movies and some people emphasize the suffering of Jesus and illustrate how gruesome it was. Certainly crucifixion was gruesome. I think Matthew underplays the gore, and concentrates on Jesus’ courage and real connection with GOD.
So even when he’s on the cross, and the criminals on the cross beside him deride him, you feel God with him even when he is feeling bereft and abandoned. “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” he shouts, which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” Why have you abandoned me?
Matthew wants to show that Jesus experienced the full depth of despair of the human condition - even that feeling of complete abandonment and loneliness. As we get deeper into this pandemic and the worldwide disaster that is being left behind, as we feel alone in our social distancing and our worries and fears, this year we may get a deeper sense about what happened in Holy Week, about how profound and important this connection Jesus has to all of us is.
It’s a little ironic that the more lonely we feel, the more we long for a connection with the Living God, and the stronger we sometimes end up feeling that connection. Matthew was signaling to the followers of Jesus that whatever hardship they might face in their discipleship, whatever persecution, whatever they might suffer, Jesus had already experienced it and was still with them.
And that’s true for us too. We want to be hopeful for each other. We need to reassure each other that God is with us through this pandemic. And we really know that is true when we comprehend the full reality of what is happening and our profound need for the Spirit beyond us in this moment.
This year during Holy Week, we open our hearts to the real truth of both our need, our hunger, and the magnitude of God’s gracious presence, This is the amazing claim of our faith, that Jesus, even at his most isolated, even at his most hopeless moment on the cross - is still Emmanuel, God with us, connecting to our pain, and connecting us to each other. We may find it hard, but we have the opportunity to realize it this year more than ever. This is God’s good news.
Offering and Responsive hymn: Were You There?