A sermon preached at the First Church UCC, Middletown, CT on September 26, 2021
Scripture: Psalm 30: 1-5
I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
My parents met and fell in love in the late 1930s. She was a registered nurse, he taught high school agriculture. As things moved along, they planned to be married in June of 1941, at the end of her current nursing contract. Since her employment would end when she married – she would be fired, if it were not the end of her contract – they wanted her to keep working until the end. They needed the money.
But, war was on the horizon, and in late 1940, a Selective Service Act was passed that made my father, then 24, eligible for the draft. He didn’t want to go; she didn’t want him to go. It soon became clear, however, that his local draft board disagreed, and the only exemption that could save him from the draft (remember, World War II had not yet started for us) == the only exemption he could claim would be if they were married. They were getting married, in June, but that wasn’t soon enough.
In April of 1941, my parents eloped. They were married over the weekend in his hometown of Woodstock, CT. The Quaker wedding they’d planned, in her home meeting house in Gwynedd PA, couldn’t happen quickly enough. Instead they put together a Quaker-style wedding (my oldest cousin, who was there – and about 8 – says it was the weirdest wedding he’s ever attended) in the First Congregational Church and had cake and punch, with photos in the front yard, back at the family home. My mother’s younger brother was the only member of her family to attend. and when they went back to New Jersey, they had to keep the marriage a secret so she wouldn’t get fired. It must have been very different than what my mother expected.
Even the threat of war upended their plans for the future.
Over the past eighteen or so months, I’ve thought often of what life was like for them during WW2. Mind you, it was much easier for them than for many…. my dad left teaching and worked for the US Dept of Agriculture during the war and was re-classified as an essential worker. On the home front, they didn’t have to worry about his death; their cares and concerns look – at first – very simple: will the tires last, can they get gasoline to go back and forth from New Jersey to Connecticut for thanksgiving… and is there enough coffee until new coupons show up for the ration book? But at the same time, my mother was an airplane spotter, spending nights over at Fort Dix in a plane spotting tower looking for Nazi warplanes. I know, and you know, there weren’t any planes, but what was her world like when she had to worry that someone would invade our little town? Then her younger brother, the witness to her wedding, joined the Navy, and so did her favorite nephew. The two of them went to the South Pacific. When her parents died, in 1943 and 1944, they weren’t home.
The world was turned upside down. They didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. One day, a great battle is won, the next another is lost. And the war went on and on and on. Sixteen million Americans served in that war; of them around four hundred thousand died.
So far, about six hundred eighty thousand people in our country have died from COVID.
Like those parents, grandparents, from that Greatest Generation, we’ve lost a lot. Plans were changed; weddings happened – or were postponed because of this disease.
Parents died, and there was no funeral – or there was a funeral, on Zoom.
Our children were stuck at home, separated from friends, forced into closer contact with their families than perhaps any of us wanted.
We used to go to work, but for most of us, for an awful long time, the commute to work was a walk from the kitchen to the dining room, while your spouse was using the living room, and the kids were doing their classes in a space in the bedroom. The only creature who found this good, and fun, was the dog, who loved having you home. The cat – not so much.
We missed our families. We missed senior proms and graduations. We missed going off to college, week-long business trips, and the traditional summer vacation at the camp.
And here your pastor left
If you are in the medical field, mostly it wasn’t about what you missed, but what you experienced. No medical person likes losing a patient, and I can’t begin to describe what it’s been like for them as they cared for so many and then watched them die. I can’t imagine what it’s like now that there’s a vaccine, and yet people continue to get sick and die because they refuse the vaccine – and some even refuse to believe that they actually have COVID as they are dying. That’s hard. That’s really hard.
Early on in the epidemic, I came across a YouTube video of a Mennonite acapella choir singing “We Are Not Alone” by Pepper Choplin. I probably listened to it daily for the first few months. It became an anthem for the congregation I was leading. We were truly alone; no one in our congregation was the least bit techie. We were not able to do any kind of on-line worship, tho I quickly learned how to video myself giving a sermon and began to send out daily meditations. The song reminded us, however, that what we had was more important than what we did not.
It reminded us that, separated as we were by our health concerns, we still had God.
We’ve lost a lot. Just this week, a high school in our state almost went back to virtual classes because the students seem to have lost the ability to get along with one another. We’ve all seen the reports of airline passengers who seem unable to handle being in a plane (so very difficult even before COVID). It’s beginning to look as though we need to re-learn how to be together in groups again.
But no matter how much we’ve lost, we have not been alone. Whatever we’ve forgotten how to do, we will learn it again.
One of the things we’ve learned, I hope, is how important it is to acknowledge what’s lost. It is not a sign of weakness to admit to loss and pain. It is not a sign of incompetence to admit our technological insufficiencies. It’s not to our shame to name our angers and frustrations. Life will go on, but it is not the same as it was in February of 2020.
Our strength comes from the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ. By the way he lived and died, we have an example of how to live in the midst of the worst that life can offer. Jesus, for instance, named his fears – father, he said, take this cup from me if it be your will… and then, he went on, trusting in the constant support of the God who had made him.
We, too, have that support. for today, it’s named in Psalm 30. The writer testifies – when they were alone, when things went bad, then God was at their side. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.
The problem with this testimony is that it’s not true for everyone all the time. One of my Facebook friends has been talking lately about how depressed he is, and I don’t think he’s at all alone. This life is tough, and sometimes nothing we can say is going to make someone who’s struggling believe that they never are alone, that God is always with us.
Here’s the truth. That’s the way life is. Sometimes it’s all there, sometimes it’s not. And when it’s not, that’s hard. It’s the place where, when it happens to me, I trust in the faith, love, acceptance I see in others. I trust in the knowledge I have that in the past the whole of the church has continued to move along, always getting closer to God’s call to us. I trust in the power of the community – even community gathered by Zoom – to be able to lift us up. And I trust that even though I am living by rote, better days will come.
So I can say, without doubt, that while things have been difficult, while life has been awful, while we have lost so much, the one thing that we – as a community – have not lost, will not lose, is God’s constant presence, God’s sustaining love.
© 2021 Virginia H. Child