Holding Hands

Epiphany 5B-24

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). More than 2,500 years ago, the prophet Isaiah described almighty God enthroned in the heavens looking down upon the people of earth as just so many tiny grasshoppers. God is Absolutely Other, transcendent, wrapped in mystery and distinct from us. And yet, Isaiah proclaimed, this “God is the beyond in our midst” (Bonhoeffer). God “brings out the starry host one by one and calls them each by name. Because of God’s great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40: 22b; 23; 26b). Some of you may remember these words of comfort were quoted by President Bush on the day that the space shuttle, Columbia catastrophically broke upon reentry, February 1, 2003. All seven crew members died, including Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut to go into space.

In times of tragedy and pain we may all feel alone and forgotten. Be assured, Isaiah whispers, your life is not hidden from God. God sees you in your suffering. God loves those whom the world regards as lowly and insignificant. Unlike us, God does not grow weary or get tired. God’s empathy and understanding knows no limits. Even young people may stumble and fall, yet those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31).

Those who ‘wait for the Lord’ will renew their strength. It seems an odd turn of phrase. It’s easy to miss in English translation. This waiting, in Hebrew, quvah, implies ‘twisting,’ as in making a rope.  It can mean to ‘expect,’ to ‘hope,’ to ‘gather,’ to ‘look patiently,’ or to ‘bind together.’  In other words, this God from beyond the stars offers to take us by the hand.  Entwine your life with mine like a rope. Let my strength be joined together with yours. I will renew your strength, your hope, your belonging, your knowing you are beloved.

Years ago, Leah and I got home late. It was dark as we pulled into the garage.  As usual it took a few minutes to collect all the travel gear and beloved toys that accompany early childhood, as well as one or two items from that day’s errands. As we began the short familiar journey from the garage to the house Leah stood frozen beside as I paused to close the garage door. Maybe it was too cold–or she didn’t like the dark.  Whatever it was, she stopped on the threshold of the garage, and quietly said, in her little three-year-old voice, “Hold my hand, Daddy.” She waited for me to take her hand with the quiet confident expectation that, somehow, holding my hand would make everything alright—and it was!

When was the last time you held hands? When was the last time you offered your hand? Maybe you didn’t because you felt embarrassed?  Holding hands might sound like kids-stuff.  ‘Quvah’ God offers us a hand (Isaiah 40:21-31). God offers to exchange our weakness for strength.  God comes up beside us when events or circumstances threaten to overwhelm us—and sometimes—just because.

As a child joins hands with a mother or father or trusted adult, just like that, our weakness is exchanged for God’s strength. Our failings are exchanged for righteousness. Our lives are woven into mystic cords of unity and communion with all the saints.  Despite our imperfections and exhaustion, God reaches from beyond the stars to take us by the hand to break the barriers and obstacles we face –whether of grief and illness, oppression, or injustice.

Some of you were with me and a quiet crowd of about 50 of our Edgewater neighbors at a vigil Thursday evening held in front of Trinity church near the spot where Senn High School student Daveon Gibson was shot and killed Wednesday. Daveon, 16, was walking with two other Senn students, who were shot and wounded.

Bouquets of white, pink and yellow flowers lay on a pink heart drawn on the sidewalk with chalk. Daveon, “You Matter to Us” was chalked next to the heart. The night with a prayer. We sang Amazing Grace. We shared stories. Peg Dublin did not witness the shooting Wednesday, but she told the crowd how her daughter-in-law, who lives nearby, held Daveon in her arms after he was shot, as he was dying. Her daughter-in-law was “not doing well,” still shaken by the tragedy, Dublin said. Dublin called on the community to help protect students walking in the neighborhood, particularly the stretch of Thorndale between Senn and the Thorndale CTA “L” stop. “I feel like if we can create a safe passage, we can show these kids that we care,” Dublin said.

Quvah. We wait for our strength to be renewed. We wait for our heart to be healed.  We wait for the fabric of community, torn by violence to be woven again in bonds of trust and love. Most of us hate to wait.  As Leah stood blocking the doorway, my first thought was to say, ‘Please keep moving!’  But thanks be to God, before I could say anything, there was that little voice, “Hold my hand, Daddy.”  Wait—wait with the quiet confidence of a child—to receive God’s strength, because God’s perfect patient love exceeds that of the best human mothers and fathers.

In today’s gospel, Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever. “Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up.  The fever left her, and she began to serve them” (Mark 1:30-31). Jesus also took time to be alone and to pray. In prayer, in song, in meditation, and worship our strength is renewed for loving and serving one another.

Quvah, this is how we heal. This is how we are strong. Quvah, waiting for the Lord, is more verb than noun, more a process than a conclusion, more an experience than a dogma, more a personal relationship than an idea. Quvah, we wait for God to become more than a distant and imperial king enthroned beyond galaxies but Someone dancing with us, and we are not afraid of making mistakes. (adapted from Richard Rohr) “Praise the one who break the darkness with liberating light; Praise the One who brings cool water to the desert’s burning sand; Praise the one redeeming glory; praise the One who makes us one” (ELW # 843).