“Once we sang and danced with gladness, once delight filled every breath; now we sit among the ashes, all our dreams destroyed by death…Come, O Christ, among the ashes, come to wipe our tears away, death destroy and sorrow banish; now and always, come and stay.” Susan R. Briehl, Once We Sang and Danced, ELW #701
A year ago at this time, our congregation just had begun to turn its sights toward Lent. We were gearing up for that busy liturgical season of spiritual growth. Then in mid-March, just a few weeks into the Lenten season, disaster struck. Pandemic descended on the world; we suspended in-person worship services and learned how to use Zoom. The entire country went into massive quarantine and an economic spiral. At that time, who could have imagined that we would still be sitting in the ashes of this disaster when Lent came around again a year later? Many times I’ve wanted to go back to my early February 2020 self and tell her to go out with her friends, hug her parents, and take a quick weekend trip. I’d tell her to savor sitting in the coffee shop writing a sermon, the feeling of wandering the aisles at Target, the simplicity of finding everything she needs on the shelves. I’d tell her to be ready for a racial reckoning, for a summer filled with peaceful protests, damaging riots, and the need to step up and speak out for racial justice. I might warn her about the upcoming emergence of militia movements, an unconventional election season, a test of our democracy, and violent insurrection at the Capitol. Oh, and I’d tell her gently to take some time to enjoy the silence at home because her daughter was about to set up a permanent classroom in the dining room. Once we sang and danced with gladness…and maybe didn’t even realize how lucky we were.
Over this last year, we have all known grief in one way or another. Some have grieved the death of loved ones, whether from COVID or other illnesses. Some have lost jobs. We have grieved the loss of life as we knew it, the connection with others, a sense of stability and safety. Making matters worse, this grief has happened in isolation. Yet, even in our grief, we have also known moments of joy: the birds at the feeder, the fresh air on our daily walk, regular Zoom calls with family and friends spread throughout the country and world. As we come round to this new Lenten season, we long for our grief to give way to hope. We wait for the day when we will rise from the ashes and dance with joy. And yet we know that this will not be a matter of waking up one morning in a whole new world. Our mourning and our dancing are always intertwined. We can dance even as we grieve and feel a pang of sorrow at the moments of greatest joy.
This Lenten season we will be exploring the intersection of our grief and our joy. Using the Psalms, we will ponder the different ways we experience God’s presence and mercy both in our mourning and in our dancing. How have you experienced God sitting with you in the ashes? When has the Spirit invited you out onto the dance floor? And as we look ahead, not knowing exactly what the future will bring, how do we put ourselves completely into God’s hands, no matter what may come?
This Lenten season will be different, of course. Though, I suppose we cannot call it “unprecedented” any longer. Still, we will worship God. We will grow in faith. We will connect with one another. And we will find a way to meet God and meet one another in both our mourning and our dancing. Join us.
Peace, Pastor Jennie