Psalm 137, 144; Exod. 10:21-11:8; 2 Cor. 4:13-18; Mark 10:46-52
By the Waters of Babylon, Arthur Hacker, English, 1888, oil on canvas, Touchstones Rochdale Collection, Manchester England
“We sat down and wept.” The exiles are remembering what it was like to live in their own land, to be masters of their own destinies (sorta–what human being ever really is?). Now they’re off in a foreign land, hauled away in chains to do what they’re told when they’re told, their minds filled with the memory of hunger and death and the smoking ruins of what used to be. And when they’re asked to entertain their captors with songs and dance from the Old Country, all they can do is weep.
The world has this crazy way of suddenly turning on us. I’ve seen it at a social level probably four times in my rectorship here: 9/11, the Great Tornado, the Great Recession, the Great Pandemic. I see it all the time at individual or family levels: the Terrible Diagnosis, the Whirlwind Departure, the Bad Review at Work, the Hidden Truth Revealed. We woke up in one world and went to bed in another. Things happened to us, despite us, and all of us went from feeling like we were at home in our own skins, masters of our own destinies, to the very real awareness that we were pretty small players on a pretty big and not always kindly-intended stage. And when the world turns, we want to sit and weep. Want to hang up our harps on willows and stop the sound of music forever.
Been there, more than once. At a social level, four times in my rectorship here; at a personal and family level, three or four times, and sure to be more of both should I live to my statistical average. I’ve moped. I’ve sat in tears. I’ve decided there would never be songs again. And every time, that day has passed, and the harps have come down off the willows again, and been restrung and retuned, and songs have again been sung in the cool of the evening. Songs of home. Songs of hope. Songs of remembrance and songs of encouragement. The world turns: it’s us who confuse today’s joys or trials for eternity. They’re not. Today’s new normal will pass away and some new new normal will take its place. The thing for us to do is not forget, in the waiting period, the songs. Because the time will come again when we can sing the Lord’s song in a strange land that no longer feels quite so strange.