"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat weeping"

"By the rivers of Babylon
there we sat weeping
when we remembered Zion.
On the poplars in its midst
we hung up our harps."
(Psalm 137:1-2)
Almost 2600 years ago, the unthinkable happened.

The children of Israel were sent into exile in Babylon. The Holy Temple, the seat where the presence of God dwelt in their midst was lost.

They were forced to re-experience and re-examine their faith in the light of this new reality.

A Modern Parallel

A few weeks ago, we were sitting in our churches, preparing for the coming of the Easter season. Clergy and lay ministers were busily planning the details of Holy Week celebrations. The liturgical austerity of Lent allowed us all to look forward to the grace of Easter: when we would gather in the Lord's house with the ringing of bells, the joyous sounds of the choir and the sweet smell of incense.

And, most importantly, with the Lord in the Holy Eucharist.

The visible, tangible sign of the Passion, Death and Resurrection. The presence of God himself.

Fast forward a few weeks. We are now in the midst of a global pandemic. Lockdown orders have shuttered the churches. Easter liturgies this year will be live-streamed from empty temples.

We have found ourselves in exile.

A New Opportunity

Yet in that exile is a grace-filled opportunity. The children of Israel discovered this in Babylon. Amidst the harshness of their captivity, separated from the temple, they had no choice but to find new ways to express and live out their faith.

And they found those ways.

The Old Testament that we know today was compiled and shaped during this time. Without the temple, the priests and scribes poured their hearts into the old stories of the faith: writing them, teaching them. People composed songs, like Psalm 137 above. The religion of the Israelites became a 'religion of the book', a truly scriptural faith.

Even when the Temple was restored, the faith was never the same. It was better.

That scriptural faith became the root of both Christianity and Modern Judaism. The Lord himself was raised as much in the synagogue as in the Temple.

The tribulation of the exile became a new seed of faith.

Re-Experiencing Our Faith

This current exile is an opportunity for us, as well. A chance to re-experience and re-understand our identities as Christians in a new way. How do we have fellowship in quarantine? How do we pray together when we are apart?

We will find ways to make it happen. An our faith will never be the same.

It sounds like bad news, but it isn't: We will never go back to the way things were before.

That is, at first, a frightening realization...but we are Christians. We believe in providence, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We believe St. Paul when he says:
"We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."
(Romans 8:28)

Not Blind Optimism, but Hope 

This is not to paint a kind of Pollyanna picture of our current situation. Things are bad. They will likely get worse. The human suffering of this current pandemic is real. Followers of Christ are not somehow immune.

We do, however, have what many lack: Hope.

Hope both in this life and in the next. Hope that God is leading us to something new, something better--even if it involves going through a dark valley to get there.

So let us be pilgrims on that Way. Let us allow the Lord to show us that path forward...a path of laus and iubilatio, praise and joy, in the midst of the darkness.

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