Hope in a Place of Death

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 Screen Shot 2020-04-04 at 11.47.03 AMare 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.

Nelson Mandela
Katherine Johnson (See “Hidden Figures”)
Billy Graham
Nipsey Russell
Ted Williams
Leonard Bernstein
Art Carney
Madeleine L’Engle
Sam Walton
Pearl Bailey
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Anwar Sadat

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!” z4F%Y8CyS4iHdvFN%ubLqw

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,

Jim

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13 thoughts on “Hope in a Place of Death

  1. My father was also born in December of 1918, and I have come to realize that my grandmother was pregnant through the Spanish flu epidemic. Praying today for all New Yorkers.

  2. Which of your colleagues’ daughter? So wonderful to hear sweet news in his disaster made even and ever worse by the ineptitude and lack of compassion exhibited by our so-called leader. We are hunkered down and fine, but we’ve run out of old, marvelously funny, episodes of WKRP Cincinnati. [atti?] lfw

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  3. Elizabeth (Bitsy) Griego April 5, 2020 — 2:43 pm

    Jim, Gager was born in 1918 also! I am still enjoying reading you after all these years!

    1. I’d add her to that list! Thanks!

  4. My mother was also born in 1918 – Erma Clara Fultz Pulsing – I owe her my life….

  5. Wow! Thank you so much!

  6. Your posts are always provocative and a pleasure. Ant they just go to show a pastor can leave a church, but the Church does not leave the pastor. You are (still) loved!

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

    From: Jim Harnish Sent: Sunday, April 5, 2020 8:33 AM To: belltwin@gmail.com Subject: [New post] Hope in a Place of Death

    jimharnish posted: “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 nati” Respond to this post by replying above this line

    New post on Jim Harnish

    Hope in a Place of Death by jimharnish
    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. Nelson Mandela Katherine Johnson (See “Hidden Figures”) Billy Graham Nipsey Russell Ted Williams Leonard Bernstein Art Carney Madeleine L’Engle Sam Walton Pearl Bailey Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Anwar Sadat 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 is 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 understate 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 pris

  7. Rebecca Sickles April 5, 2020 — 9:03 pm

    Thanks for your message of hope on Palm Sunday! Hosanna!! We have a niece and nephew living in Brooklyn with their spouses (all in their 30s) all of whom have experienced mild symptoms of coronavirus and fortunately have recovered at home. Our world is a crazy mix of anxiety and hope. Thanks for reminding us that hope prevails even though it’s hard to see the light at the end of this tunnel.

  8. J LAWRENCE MCCLESKEY April 6, 2020 — 1:21 am

    Jim- Thanks for this. I appreciate receiving your periodic articles. They are uniformly thoughtful and helpful. Thanks for the reminder of people born in 1918. If we move to one year earlier- 1917 – a great man named Waller McCleskey was born then. It’s a gift to reflect on the good that ensued because he survived the flu epidemic! A blessed Holy Week to you both! Lawrence

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  9. I don’t tell you enough how much I appreciate your blogs! Thank you

    1. Thanks! I’m grateful for your continued leadership both at St. Luke’s and in the denomination.

  10. Jim,
    Thank you for this beautifully written devotional. It is a reminder that death and new life are both part of the human experience God is sovereign. He brings Hope out of Despair.
    Easter blessings to you and Martha.
    Peggy Miller

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