Preached on Sunday July 27th by Rev. Chris Davies
1 By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows* there
we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
6 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.
7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!’
8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator!*
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
Oh I remember Zion. I remember the days where it felt right, I was cared for, we had everything we needed, and the children played gleefully in the neighborhood. It was different back then, people were nicer. We got together after work for cocktails with the neighbors while the kids took care of themselves out back. We weren’t struggling then, like we are now; trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage on a fixed income and keep up with this house that just feels too big, now that the kids have moved out. They never call anymore, either. In my day, we called our parents. I remember Zion.
I remember Zion. Before we knew that he was sick. We had no idea how good it was. Sure things were a little tight, and I thought my worries were huge, but that was the life. The disease didn’t hang over every moment of our lives, threatening to take it all in an instant… We weren’t strapped to a hospitals’ schedule and constantly waiting for the next test and result and treatment option. We could go places and do things… we could lay together and laugh without the dark cloud. It was before the Moment that Changed Everything. Before. I can’t believe we are here. I remember Zion.
My, My… I remember Zion. We should have never moved to this city. Where we lived before, the house was just right, I knew where everything was, and I had friends. People asked about how I was doing. And they knew my family. Here it’s just so lonely and cold. I can walk down the street and no one says “hello.” I have to start all over again. I remember Zion.
I remember Zion. My darling, my dear one, my sweet love… when she was here with me… we were perfect together. We made a house and a home and she kept it up… I got home from work and she’d have dinner there, ready… she cared for me so deeply: I never had to worry about doing my own laundry or cleaning up the house, it was perfect. Sure, there were fights… Sure, there were days where we didn’t speak…. but I didn’t know what I had. And then she left me. I remember Zion.
I remember Zion. The willows above the river, swaying in the wind, the land that God calls ours and the Temple was so beautiful, so full. Families came in from all over and dressed up and The Lord Our God was happy. We never had to search for people to help, they just did. And we lacked for nothing. We sang hymns together, praising God with the lute and the harp and the lyre, and the children were filling the sanctuary with laughter and praise. God, I remember Zion, and if I forget, cut my hand off! That was the time. That was the place. But now, we’ve been pushed out, the Temple is destroyed, and we are captors. I remember Zion.
I remember Zion. I remember Zion. I remember Zion.
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? When all seems lost and so long ago, how can we sing Praise to God? It seems like God is not here. Some call out in pain and in anger. The near-obsessive nostalgia for what the time that felt like Zion is behind us and we are in a different place. We wonder if God is here in this strange land…
And yet…. the memory of what was for all of us holds us captive. Anger spills from each wistful memory and from the psalmist. Anger and hurt– Anger is the energy released after a great hurt. Anger can come in flashes and can be destructive, leaving us wistful and wishing that we hadn’t said those things, wishing that we could take back the words or the actions that hurt and leaving us spent and slightly ashamed.
The memory of what was can have us call out in anger and hurt some serious things to God: God why have you done this to me? God I pray for Those People, They who hurt me, offend me, or are different from me, I pray for our delight in Their Demise. God I hate this disease, I hate this situation, and maybe even quietly, shamefully, God I hate you.
Incidentally, though, God can take it. God can take the anger that we call out in prayer, in the pews, screamed into the abyss of our loneliness and pain and dysphoria and hold it in compassion and abundant abundant grace. God can receive the truly terrible things we might pray– like the ancient psalmist delighting in the death of his enemies’ children– and after we let it all out, after we are deflated and spent and everything’s been said–and then… at that moment, if we are open to God’s grace… only then can God take all that energy released and change it into something better. At that moment God takes the vision of Zion– the Zion that as hard as we try, we will never get back to– and allows the hope of what we can be, and who we can be, to shine through.
God who is with us in our pain and despair, who knows the hurt we feel and mourns the memories of what once was with us, God who loves us with no reservations, the Holy One who Holds our Past as sacred a story as we do, and still points gently to the Future of Hope and Possibility that lies before us, saying, “oh my dear Child. Yes, that vision of Zion is gone, but look where we can go together. Look how we grow. Sweet one, together we make a new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth, bigger and better than anything that has come before….”
Our Creator, our Divine Love, reminds us that together, the hope for reconciliation and joy is so very present. That though the Zion we remember is gone, we are a resurrection people. From this cave of hurt and pain and death and darkness peeks a new light…
And a realization that we have not yet reached Zion. The promised land is not here. It is just out of reach. The kingdom that God imagined for us has not yet happened. It is just over the horizon! It is ahead… and we must, we must, we MUST get there together. To get there, we include all voices, we hold hands and look to the future, we hold each other in compassion and hope and justice and love. We know from where we have come, we remember what we think the land of promise has been, but ahead is the potential for the beloved community with all of our precious uniqueness, supporting and loving and holding each other up. For this, I will await with wonder all that is yet to be, and continuously say thanks for all that has come before.