Psalm 137 is a psalm of lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. It was written during the exile of the people of Israel in Babylon after they were conquered by the Babylonians. I mentioned that in my sermon last Sunday. The psalm recounts how the Israelites’ captors tormented them by asking them to entertain them with the songs of Zion (another name for Jerusalem). Verse 4 then poses the rhetorical question, “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” The assumed answer was, “we can’t.”
The worship of our Jewish ancestors in faith, though, did manage to adapt to the new and difficult circumstances. Yes, they could not worship God any more at the temple. It had been destroyed. But they could find another way of worshiping, and to not forget God during the 50 years of their exile. Although it’s very difficult to say with any certainty, some scholars think that one of the adaptations made at this time was the birth of the synagogue tradition, the practice of assembling for prayer, song, and recounting the history of God and God’s people in small groups. In other words, congregations. ‘Synagogue’ means literally the same thing in Greek that ‘congregatione’ means in Latin, i.e., ‘a gathering together.’ And the earliest Christian worshiping communities developed out of the synagogue tradition, in the time after followers of Jesus were excluded from temple worship.
As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the globe and is becoming particularly acute in the United States at the moment, we’ve had to stop coming together for weekly worship in our church buildings. As a result, we might be tempted to ask the question of Psalm 137 about our own situation: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in quarantine?” This does not have be a rhetorical question, with “we can’t” as the expected answer. Like the Israelites and early Christians, we are adapting to our circumstances. Through the marvel of modern technology and a dedicated team of Grace staff, we have able to “attend” (i.e., be attentive to) live-streamed worship services online for the past three weeks. And we are finding way of spreading the leadership around by having individuals and families record readings that can be incorporated into the services. It’s not quite the same as being all together in one place, but it is a way of being together and continuing our faith practices at this unusual and difficult time.
Holy week is just around the corner now as we enter the month of April. The culmination of holy week is the three-day commemoration of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, collectively the highest holy days on the Christian calendar. We plan to live-stream services on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:00 p.m., and on Easter Sunday morning at 9:30. I hope you will join us for those services. And I hope that you will consider making yourself available to be a reader for one or more of those services (i.e., recording yourself and sending it to us). We understand that not everyone is comfortable doing that. But those of you who are, please let Caitlyn know (firstname.lastname@example.org) so that we can schedule you. And there will be an ongoing need for readers in the weeks following Easter as well – we’re looking for three each Sunday in order to maximize participation by the congregation.
This is a strange time, one “foreign” to our previous experience. And yet I am convinced that we can indeed continue to sing the Lord’s song in our new circumstances, relying on God’s promises of faithfulness and love made to each of us in Holy Baptism, and looking forward to the day when we can all be together again. Let’s use the time we are given now to appreciate the blessings we do have even in the midst of this crisis, to reach out and support each other in the Grace community and in our wider circles of acquaintances, friends, and family. May God continue to bless us richly during the coming holy days and throughout our lives. “See” you online!
+ Pastor Repp