July 10, 2018
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness…” Psalm 20:11
Summer gifts us with the leisure to get stuff done that we’ve been putting off all year. These past weeks I’ve been sorting through boxes and albums of photos, thinking about all the stories shared through thirty years of ministry. Each one creates a memory frozen in time: women wrangling a sermon text, men fixing the leaky roof, children playing with wild abandon at vacation Bible school, decades of beaming confirmation students. Hundreds of faces smile back, grateful and joyous at some forgotten celebration: worship and weddings, baptisms and anniversaries of every kind.
Much as this heart-warming photo tour brought me great pleasure, something was missing. At first I couldn’t place the problem. After all, there were more than enough photos to capture our shared ministry across time. So I took a break and went to visit a local adult care center. There I was privileged once again to hear the stories of one whose memory sinks irreversibly deeper into dementia. I whispered conspiratorially with another who prepares for hospice care. At each visit we prayed. And then I knew.
Our deepest joy flows less often from the party we see than from the sorrow we don’t see. There are no photos at the funeral, or in the cemetery or at the hospital. There are no pictures of the buckets of shared tears or the inconsolable suffering of shared grief. There isn’t a stitch of documentation to mark the fervency of our mutual prayers, or to capture the sad stories of homeless men and women who regularly come seeking a word of hope and direction to life.
Jesus recognized our suffering as human creatures, and he attended to us in it. He gave us hope that death is not the end of our story, and that we were made for joy. He keenly understood that sometimes the path to joy is through sorrow. As we can’t get to Easter without going through Good Friday, so too every photo bears the hidden mark of suffering. Our joy then is born at that point whereby God miraculously turns mourning to dancing, trading a sack-cloth of grief for dancing shoes.
Prayer: We thank you God, for your presence in our joy and in our suffering. Life is hard. Yet we know that you love us and are with us. And we know that you have sent helpers to lighten our load and keep us company along our way.
God’s Grace, Mercy and Peace,
Pastor Anna V. Copeland
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