February 26, 2021
Comfort, comfort my people says your God...
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:1, 31)
My beloved Sisters and Brothers,
Grace to you in the name of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, Healer of our Brokenness, and Hope of the World!
We have lived in the midst of the COVID pandemic for at least a year. With tears in our eyes and with a heavy heart we have learned that over 500,000 people in the United States have died because of COVID. Two and a half million lives have been lost from COVID worldwide. The number of deaths is staggering and so difficult to comprehend.
While we cannot grasp the enormity of that number, it is far more than just a statistic. Each one counted in those numbers represents a mother, a father, a grandparent, a child, a husband, a wife, a sibling, a beloved child of God. To each of us, they are the faces of our loved ones—our family, our neighbors, our friends, and members of our churches. They are the people who mentored, nurtured, cared for, and loved us. They are the ones whom we cherish in our hearts and minds and memories. They are greatly missed.
Our hearts are filled with sorrow as our tears flow and at times the nights are long and painful. The sun does not seem to shine as brightly as it once did. For some of us, our grief is almost unbearable.
We are living in a time that none of us has ever experienced. At times it feels as though all is dark and hopeless. Like the Psalmist we cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1). We hear “great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children” (Matthew 2:18) echoing in our ears. We hear our friends and family mourn those who have lost their lives and we weep for those we know in our own churches who have been lost.
We cannot explain why COVID has happened. We have no words or phrases that will suddenly make our grief go away. What we can do is give witness to a God who cares for us far more than we can ever know or comprehend, even for such a time as this. In the midst of our deepest valley, we know we are not alone. The God who knows the depth of our pain is with us. The God we worship and serve is a tender, caring, and nurturing God who wipes our tears away, comforts us in our sorrows, and surrounds us with loving arms.
Psalm 22 talks about how forsaken we sometimes feel, especially in the face of death. The very next Psalm, however, Psalm 23, is one of solace and assurance. Our God is like a shepherd who safely and securely cares for us. This God, even in the midst of COVID, leads us to the calm waters where our souls can be comforted, rested, and refreshed. Eugene Peterson says in The Message, “Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.” He finishes that familiar Psalm with the words, “I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.”
What I know, what I have experienced, and what I believe with all my being is that even in the darkest times our God is with us. Those dark times may linger, but the dawn will surely break through. Just as a rainbow appears after the storm, the light of hope and healing will ultimately pierce the darkness and shine bright.
In these weeks of Lent, we walk with Christ in the final weeks and days of his life. When Lent is over, we will welcome in the new dawn of Easter. Joyfully we will join Christians all over the world as we proclaim: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” This Easter, even with tears and sadness our hearts will sing our alleluia:
Lives again our glorious King, Where, O death, is now thy sting?
Once he died our souls to save, Where’s thy victory, boasting grave?
Soar we now where Christ has led, Following our exalted Head,
Made like him, like him we rise, Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.
(“Christ the Lord is Risen Today,”
by Charles Wesley; United Methodist Hymnal, 302)
May God continue in these times to keep you and your loved ones safe, strong, and hope-filled. May you know more fully the love of our God who loves us more than we ever deserve or can imagine. May you be comforted and assured that God’s love will never ever let us go.
In God’s Comfort and Care,
Jeremiah J. Park