What does it mean to believe that Jesus will return and judge? And when judgement so often evokes fears of punishment, shame, and exclusion, are their other ways of understanding it? After we explore these questions, we spend some time reflecting on, praying through, and meditating on the questions we have and the hopes we have for the world. The reflections and prayers from this time were written by Cole Arthur Riley and published through her Instagram, @blackliturgies.
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Jason: So I know that today, we probably have some who find great hope in the idea that He will come to judge, that He will set things right. There are others that maybe think perhaps, “why is it taking so long?” And I think perhaps what you feel most strongly right now is disillusionment or discontent. For others, the whole story we’re talking about is one that you’re not sure you believe in, that’s okay too. We’re really glad that we’re in community together here today. But we wanted to take some time to process and pray, to allow some of our longings and some of our hopes to coexist, to allow some of our questions, some of our faith to coexist here for a moment. And so Mariah’s going to lead us in a sort of sequence of ways to reflect today.
A little bit later, when she lets you know, there will be a chance, if you’d like, to actually come forward and light a candle. These candles might mean for us a few different things. The candle might be a symbol for you of the thing that needs judged, the thing that you long to see set right. It might be something in your personal life or in your family system that’s very broken. It might be something in the world at large, perhaps in our community or our politics, and you want to light a candle just to give witness to the fact that some of these things need judged and they haven’t been judged yet.
For others, you might want to light a candle as an act of vigilance. Throughout the New Testament, when there are stories told, parables given, of longing and waiting for that day in the future, sometimes the surrounding metaphor is one of waiting through the night and remaining vigilant. And Jesus tells stories of some who fall asleep and others who stay awake. And maybe you’ll want to light a candle to say, “I want to be someone who keeps my eyes open and stays awake, looking there on the horizon for that judgement we long for.” And then, you know, wherever you set your sights tends to be where you go. So you might find that vision moves you in the direction of some act of healing in the here and now.
The candle might just be an expression of a groaning that you don’t have a description or words for, but you just sense that you want to do something more than sit there. And to light a candle itself, simply means the content of your prayer.
So we’ll take a minute now and Mariah will lead us and she’ll let you know in a moment when, if you’d like, you can come forward to light a candle.
Mariah: We’re going to start this time just centering ourselves in the here and the now. So find a position that’s comfortable for you, whether that’s feet flat on the floor. Maybe the palms of your hands resting on your knees. Just take a couple deep breaths in and out.
And breathing in and out, if you feel comfortable, go ahead and close your eyes if you haven’t already. Go to a safe space, a space that you feel completely comfortable being yourself, a space that you can ignore the noises of the room. And as you find that space, and as you enter that space, continue to breath in and out. Feeling your heart beating in your chest. And a few reminders for this time:
“Release yourself from the tyranny of spiritual certainty. Remember that doubt is not a threat to faith; it’s faith that has finally taken off its mask. And if you find it difficult to believe in God or anything else in this season, that is okay. You’ve seen death, endured sorrow. To believe is to risk. Remember that doubt doesn’t alienate you from the divine, it often means you’re approaching it.”
And with those thoughts in mind, and as you continue to breath in and out, there are some prompts that I’m going to lead you through. As you inhale, say within yourself, “I am free to not know” and as you exhale, “I can rest in the mystery”.
“Inhale: I am free to not know
Exhale: I can rest in the mystery”
As you continue to breath in and out, we’re just going to sit with that for a minute.
“Inhale: I am free to not know
Exhale: I can rest in the mystery”
As this next song is played, you can continue to stay in that space, breathing in and out through those prompts. Or this is the time where you can light a candle. You can pull out your phone and go to that give page and give, if that’s an act that you want to engage in today. Open your notes app and write your questions or your hopes for the world. But these next few minutes are yours to engage how you wish.
There is so much we wish you would intervene in to bring justice and healing now.
We trust that you are a God who is patient with these doubts. A God who is not threatened by our unbelief but draws near to us in it.
Help us toward an understanding of you that includes tension and mystery.
Let us be empathetic with our souls which have endured so much suffering, and have a right to ask deep questions of the divine.
But as we do, let us find an empathy for you — a God who is no stranger to suffering but endures all things with us, that we might find full liberation.
Let our doubts lead us into deeper intimacy with the divine, as we tell the truth of the questions that plague us. Amen”
Jason: There’s a priest named Daniel Berrigan who in the last several decades would be a pretty credible reference point for what it looks like to take Jesus’ teachings really seriously. Somebody giving his life and his energy to invest in the world that we long for and to critique the world as it is right now. And he did so at great cost to himself, and he was asked once in an interview, “how do you hold on to hope?”
And his answer was, “by doing hopeful things”. I think a lot of us have a picture of hope that’s a feeling, we hope that hope is a feeling that would come upon us. But some of the wise teachers I keep listening to say hope tends to be something that you do, an act that you choose, and then perhaps your heart follows that lead and finds itself on a firmer ground of belief about where everything is headed.
And it strikes me that, in fact, singing is a hopeful thing to do. Now nobody wants to be inauthentic, I get that, and there are days that we might put a song on in the room that you just don’t believe in or feel. And we don’t ever want to coerce anyone to sing anything. And that’s true right now as well.
But that being said, we began this gathering with a song that’s quite hopeful and we thought that we would come back to it at the end of all of this. And maybe as we put this song in the room, you feel it deeply and for that reason you’ll want to sing it. But for others, can I just suggest that maybe to actually to put these words on your lips and to sing them is to do a hopeful thing and you might find that your heart follows the lead of your voice as we sing it.
So if you’d like, and if you’re able, would you stand to your feet and Mariah will lead this song for us now.
We’ll All Be Free by William Matthews
There’s a world at war
Caught in suffering
Oh, God, grant us peace
In these sleepless nights
I can hardly breathe
I know that we’ll be free
I know that we’ll be free
In these desperate times
Love will hold us here
Love will join our hands
Teach us to have no fear
So we lay our hate down
To wash their feet
When we see our brother
Oh, we’ll all be free
Yes, we’ll all be free
Let the light in, keep it shinin’
Let it break into the darkness
All that love dares us to see
We’ll all be free
Jason: If it feels like a hopeful thing for you to do, don’t forget this week sometime, you can go and give for Jefferson Traditional School and we’ll give all of those resources to the school there. We’d love to send them a really big gift of love and encouragement this week.
That being said, if you, like brother Langston, are tired of waiting for the world to become good and beautiful and kind, may you know that you are not alone. And yet, may we be those who hope and trust, who long for and look forward to the day when the best kinds of judgement will be brought upon the world, sifting our lives and pulling the good out and leaving all of that death behind. And may grace and peace be with you.
*all material within quotes (other than direct quotes) come from Cole Arthur Riley