Monday, May 24, 2021

Powerful or Powerless?

 

 

 Powerless or Powerful? (Source*)
As the coronavirus lockdown began last year, I could feel the walls closing in around me. I watched the
news and saw stories of heroic first responders going out to save the world. Grocery store workers, postal workers, and yes, even trash collectors had an important job to do.

 

I, on the other hand, had orders to help by doing, well, nothing. There were even memes to the effect, “For the first time in our lives, we can save the world by lying on the couch watching TV. Let’s not mess this up!”

 

But, being home doing nothing doesn’t really feel good. Human beings have a basic need to be productive, to give. For all of history, the disabled, the elderly, and even prisoners have struggled with this too often thwarted desire to contribute, but it’s a fairly new experience for me, except during times of illness.

 

I tried to think of things I could do to help the world in this desperate situation. Every outlet seemed closed off to me, because of the risks that I might unwittingly contract and spread a virus that no one could see.

 

When Holy Friday came, I listened to the 12 Gospel readings from a new vantage point. Yes, listening to streaming services is different. But also, I was different, and I heard differently this time.

 

I had always previously dwelt on the physical sufferings of Christ – the sufferings that are so often emphasized in movies and books. I had thought of the pain of the nails, the length of the thorns, the difficulty breathing, the cut of the lash. I’ve always been a little surprised at the near silence of the Gospel about these vital details. The Gospels barely describe Christ’s physical sufferings, though they were undoubtedly severe. Instead, this sort of description is quite common in the Biblical accounts, When they had crucified him” (Matthew 27)  or  “ . .  .they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.” (John 19)

 

But, this year, for the first time, my attention was drawn to something Gospels seemed to emphasize more than the physical sufferings. Words.

 

Some words are incredibly cruel:

 

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:39)

 

and

 

“He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.””(Matt. 27:48)

 

Other words convey unimaginable blessing of love & care:

 

“Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” (John 19:26, 27)

 

After hearing many, many such words read in the course of Holy Thursday evening, I developed an opinion. That while the physical wounds of Christ are not described in nearly as much detail as I would expect, but the wounds caused by words are described in much more vivid detail that I might have expected. And, the Blessing conveyed by words is also depicted in detail. Perhaps there was a lesson there that I was missing all these years? Maybe the Scriptures are painting for us clearly the power of words – power to heal or to hurt – power that we as Christians all too often underestimate.

 

I’d been meditating on this theme of the extreme importance of words since Holy Week.

 

Here in my home, my hands were largely bound. I could offer physical help to almost no one. On the other hand, my tongue – for better or for worse – was loosed. I fouid myself communicating with distant friends by the internet, or by telephone – or even by letter – in a way I haven’t done in years. And, verbal interaction with my family is also increased from pre-pandemic times. Sometimes that was a good thing. Sometimes it is not.

 

I noticed that in the world around me, everyone was communicating more, but with the heightened anxiety from world events and personal stresses, the increased communication could be either a blessing and a curse.

 

As time moved on, I was looking to Pentecost. Reading the Biblical account this time, once again I again noticed something that I had previously not fully observed. In Acts 1, Jesus promised, “ . . . you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. . .” Then, in Acts 2, the Power comes – quite dramatically, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind, and with Tongues of Fire. And, what was the first fruit of coming of the Holy Spirit in Power? I realized that once again, the miraculous occurrence was words. Mere words. Miraculous words that each heard in his own language, but still, words. The amazing Power of the Holy Spirit was manifest not in spectacular deeds, but in words. Granted, physical miracles would come later, but the first manifestation was words.

 

It was very tempting for me in times of isolation t despair, and think, “I can do nothing important, I can only talk to people.” Or in contrast to think, “I only said a few words, I couldn’t have possibly done much harm.”

 

But, truly, in this season of Pentecost, we need the Power of the Holy Spirit to give us strength to use the remarkable power of words for the Glory of God - whether isolated or not.

  

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

 

*Photo Credit: "Isolated cumulonimbus" by otrow_photography is marked with CC0 1.0 

 

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