A Reflection from Ash Wednesday

posted Feb 19, 2021, 8:33 AM by Tricia Sheffield

Dear Middletown Reformed Church Family and Friends,

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you! I hope you are staying safe and warm in the storm.

Allow me to share the reflection I gave this week at our Ash Wednesday worship entitled, They Believed and Hoped More Powerfully Than They Grieved.

Last month one of our lectionary readings was the call of Samuel where he heard a voice speaking his name in the night. At first he thought it was his teacher Eli calling to him, but upon waiting and listening a third time — Samuel! Samuel! — he realized it was God’s voice he was hearing. Upon understanding this (with the help of Eli, to be sure) Samuel answered, “Speak Lord, your servant listens.” And here is what he was told: God was about to do a new thing for God’s people through him. But this new thing meant it was time for his mentor, Eli, to step down. The old had ended; things were becoming new. And once the people heard of this passing of the priestly torch, they grieved, for they had been through so much with Eli — strife, hardship, suffering, pain — but they trusted that God’s choice of Samuel as priest would signal an end to their suffering. They trusted in this new thing from God because they very much needed a fresh start; they needed hope for the future.

Walter Brueggemann says: “This [call of Samuel], by the power of a new disclosure from God, dares to believe and hope the community can begin again. They watched in hope for the giving of new life. They knew also . . . about the coming of death. But they believed and hoped more powerfully than they grieved.”

We have certainly grieved this past year, loved ones and friends have died, either to COVID or other diseases; we’ve had health problems; lost employment; and have felt isolated, lonely, and scared. We have endured a pandemic, and are still continuing to endure a pandemic. We are tired and frustrated, and we long for a new beginning. 

But, we have also witnessed glimmers of hope in these times — babies have been born (and baptized!) because new life still comes, even among disease; have found new employment; food has been distributed to those who are hungry; warm clothes and tents have been given to people without homes; a vaccine has been created and became available faster than we could have imagined; and families, friends, and communities have come together in greater ways to support one another. Even in our grief, this past year has made many of us rethink our priorities. Or maybe we have learned what is important because of grief. Our grief has attuned us to the power of belief, and the strength that hope can give us. So, my prayer, my hope for our Lenten journey, as we travel with Jesus into the desert, to the cross, and finally to the joy of the resurrection, is that we, like the Israelites, will trust God and will believe and hope in God for a future of new things more powerfully than we grieve our current situation.

Let us believe and hope as we gather online at 10:15 AM to chat with one another, and then worship at 10:30 AM via Zoom. We are planning to pre-record the worship, so we will watch it together on Zoom like we did last week. Juliet Gallagher is our featured soloist and she will sing “Touch the Earth Lightly,” “She Comes Sailing On the Wind,” and “Tree of Life and Awesome Mystery.” I will be preaching from Mark 1.9-15 and my sermon title is Into the Wilderness. 

Beloved one, let us begin our Lenten journey now, trusting in God to carry us through to a new beginning. I invite you to share your prayers of belief and hope with me so that I may have the joy of praying for you during this season of Lent.

In gratitude for the privilege of being your pastor and the holy call of loving you,

Pastor Trish