March 24, 2020
Dear to God,
I do not know if you have ever given consideration to the words of “By the Waters of Babylon,” a psalm which we in the Orthodox Church sing as we prepare to begin Great Lent.
It is not hard to see that this psalm is a song of intense grief and lament. It was composed in a terrible context. The Babylonian Empire had invaded ancient Israel, ended the rule of the Davidic dynasty, destroyed the holy Temple, and carried many of the people away into Mesopotamia as slaves.
As the psalm begins, we learn that some exceedingly cruel Babylonians have demanded that the captive musicians amuse them by singing some of the liturgical music from the Temple. Of course, the musicians refuse, hanging their harps up on the willow trees in protest and weeping openly. They then ask themselves the question, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” For the time being, there is no answer. There is only the resolution not to blaspheme the Temple music, not to forget Jerusalem, and not to abandon the faith.
What a desolation they must have felt! What a horror! The whole center of their religion was torn apart. Even if they were to escape captivity, there was no more Temple. There were no more sacrifices being offered at all, no altars, no feasts, no Ark of the Covenant, no liturgical cycle. Nothing.
Now obviously, our present circumstances are much less traumatic than those faced by our forebears in the time of the Babylonian Exile. But I bring up this example to point out that eventually the musicians came to a positive answer to their question. They did not abandon their faith or forget Jerusalem, and this led them to seek creative ways to exercise their faith in less-than-ideal circumstances. While their goal remained the eventual return to “normal” through a rebuilding of the Temple and the restoration of its worship, the exiles invented a stop-gap measure which has actually lasted all the way down to the modern world: the synagogue.
Yes, the synagogue, an institution that figures so prominently in the Jewish religion Jesus interacts with in the gospels, actually comes out of the Babylonian Exile and the attempt to answer the question, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”
I make mention of this at this time to remind us that sometimes God can use periods of stress to bring forth new gifts for his people. While we hope and pray that this pestilence and the accompanying shutdowns end soon, we also should remember that the Lord is at work in times of darkness, even as He is in times of light. And it is very possible that if we engage faithfully in the struggle set before us, He may even use this time to bring forth long term benefits for us in our life as a community.
So let us embrace our situation with faith and love for one another. Let’s get creative. If you have suggestions or in-process ideas for things we can do at this time, please don’t hesitate to share them with myself, the other clergy, the parish council, or the various ministry leaders. We look forward to hearing what beautiful ideas God might whisper into your hearts and seeing what God-pleasing fruit we might be able to bring forth in this season for the building up of our parish and for the salvation of the world outside!
With Love and Devotion in Christ,