On the willows there we hung up our harps.
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
Today we are taking a look at Psalm137, which is the only Psalm that is about an actual event in the life of the Jewish people, the Babylonian exile. When the Babylonians besieged Judah, they destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and carried its treasures back to Babylon. They also took into captivity the king and his family, the priests, all the elites, plus soldiers and artisans, and they lived in Babylon for 50 years until Cyrus of Persia conquered it and allowed the exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The psalm is a lament by the exiles who could not bring themselves to sing and play the familiar songs of Zion, their homeland, where their God Yahweh resided, in this strange and hostile place. They couldn’t sing. They couldn’t celebrate. All they could do was weep for what they had lost and vow to never forget their home and their God. I chose these verses for today because we have been apart for 25 weeks, almost 6 months, exiled to the land of covid 19, which is also a foreign one, unlike anything any of us has ever seen. We are isolated from each other and from our church home. We experience loneliness, sadness, and anxiety. We miss being together, hugging, sharing, singing, and eating, all the familiar things that make New Vision home. Everything that we used to take for granted when we arrived on Sunday mornings is gone. We remember. And we weep for what is lost. Like the exiles, we don’t see an end to our situation any time soon. And in the worst moments, we fear we might never get back together. What the exiles in Babylon were weeping for, though, they also still had, not the physical place, but the place in their hearts. They still had their community, even though they were physically separated. Their faith, and their love for one another and for God, was still available to them. Home is not always a physical place. Home is where our hearts are. And our hearts are with one another. I think about us every day. I know you do too. And we do connect, by phone and email and video and Facebook and Zoom.
We even celebrate communion together, though we are apart. And this connection in this strangest of times is what keeps us together. And it gives us hope that someday, what we lost will be restored. In the book of Jeremiah, Yahweh tells the exiles that what they are going through will not last forever, saying: “Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears. There is hope for your future. Judah and all its towns shall live there together, and the farmers and those who wonder with their flocks. I will satisfy the weary, and all who are faint I will replenish.” Eventually, the exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, the symbol of their faith. But it was different from what it had been before. The economic situation was dire. There was conflict with the Samaritans, and with their own people who had married outsiders and abandoned their Jewish faith. It took patience and perseverance for their community to be fully restored. When we all get back together physically, it will likely be different too. Even with a vaccine, we don’t know exactly what it will look like. So it will take patience and perseverance from us too. But I have no doubt that we will do whatever it takes, because we are not just members of a church. We are a family. I imagine that the exiles, while weeping for what they had lost, also held onto a glimmer of hope that it wouldn’t be like this forever. And we do too. And that Hope is what we hold onto to get us through this dark time. Hope is what carries us when we are weary. I found a poem of hope for our time, written by Father William Hendrick, entitled, On the Other Side of the Virus: “All over the world people are waking up to a new reality. To how little control we really have. To what really matters. To Love. So we pray and we remember that Yes there is fear. But there does not have to be hate. Yes there is isolation. But there does not have to be loneliness. Yes there is sickness. But there does not have to be disease of the soul. Yes there is even death. But there can always be a rebirth of love. And we are always encompassed by Love. So, open the windows of your soul, and sing.” To how little control we really have. To what really matters. To Love. So we pray and we remember that Yes there is fear. But there does not have to be hate. Yes there is isolation. But there does not have to be loneliness. Yes there is sickness. But there does not have to be disease of the soul. Yes there is even death. But there can always be a rebirth of love. And we are always encompassed by Love. So, open the windows of your soul, and sing.” We can sing our songs while exiled in this foreign land. We can celebrate the special connection we have with one another. Although we are physically apart, our hearts are together. And someday soon, our New Vision family will be fully restored.