In the Valley of the Shadow
We’re hearing a lot of news from Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan these days. It’s one of the hospitals that are the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis.
The ICU at Mt. Sinai and other hospitals in major cities across the nation and around the world have become places where patients die alone and families receive the word of their passing by telephone because no one can get inside for fear of spreading the virus. Medical teams and hospital personnel are literally taking their lives into their own hands as they reach out their hands to do the work of healing.
Nothing like this has happened in any of our lifetimes. The only 20th Century comparison is the great influenza epidemic in 1918-1920.
Good News at Mt. Sinai
But the COVID-19 crisis is not the only thing happening at Mt. Sinai. This week the daughter of one of my long-time friends, an original member of the clergy group I’ve participated in for nearly four decades, gave birth to a baby girl in the obstetrics ward at Mt. Sinai Hospital. When the new grandfather shared the news, I responded, “A gift of joy and life in a time of despair and death! Praise God!”
If the only thing we know about 1918 is the number of people who died from the flu, we’d be forgetting that babies were born that year, too. Here are a few of the people who were born in 1918.
Katherine Johnson (See “Hidden Figures”)
The list goes on, but it’s enough to say that some of the world’s best people were born in one of the worse years in world history. Their births in no way diminish the tragedy of the flu epidemic. But they are at least a small sign of hope in a dark time.
Into the Valley of the Shadow of Death
So, here we are, on Palm Sunday. Unable to wave our branches in worship, we hang them on our doors as our individually isolated way of shouting, “Welcome! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!”
It was, of course, the first step along the way that would take Jesus into “the valley of the shadow of death.”
“Ride On, Ride On, In Majesty” is not a familiar Palm Sunday hymn for American Methodists, though is a favorite among Anglicans, particularly in the UK. One verse captures the way we begin this journey:
Ride on, ride on in majesty;
in lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, thy triumphs now begin
o’er captive death and conquered sin.
There’s no way to deny or overstate the dark shadow that hangs over us, any more than the birth of one child at Mt. Sinai cancels out the suffering and death that occurs there as well. We live with both at the same time. The only way to resurrection is the way that leads to the cross. But we make this journey and we live this life, not in despair, but with hope!
Before he went to prison where he would die because of his opposition to Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his students to report on the death of three of their colleagues. He wrote:
Now they sleep with all the brothers who have gone before them, awaiting the great Easter Day of Resurrection. We see the cross, and we believe in resurrection; we see death, and we believe in eternal life; we trace sorrow and separation, but we believe in an eternal joy and community.
May that same hope be with us in all the Holy Weeks of our lives.
Grace and peace,