Psalm 23 Luke 22:19-20
The Rev. Tom Herbek
March 3, 2019
The 23rd Psalm is filled with symbols that have meaning far beyond the basic sense of the words: shepherd, green pastures, still waters, dark valley, rod and staff, anointed head, a table in the presence of enemies, overflowing cup, house of the Lord, etc. All are words that mean far more than what they would seem to mean at first glance. They are symbols.
Symbols are filled with much deeper meaning than it seems at first glance. Symbols can be extraordinarily powerful. Mark Nepo describes the power of symbols:
As a boy, I remember visiting my grandfather’s house. He had a milk-white bowl filled with M&M’s. It was a simple magical treasure to me. No matter how often I reached on tiptoe, it never emptied. It has been thirty years since he died, and now when depressed, I hold that milk-white bowl in my lap and eat a few M&M’s.
And I feel better. This isn’t illusion or escapism, but rather using the milk-white bowl filled with M&M’s as a living symbol that can call into my moment of sadness a deeper sense of plenitude and generosity that is always there, but not always accessible.
This is the proper use of symbols, not to coldly represent ideas, but to call into being all that lives in us and about us.
Eight or nine times each year we come together to celebrate and to remember who Jesus was and what Jesus did, using some ordinary, everyday objects as reminders, as symbols. If we let them, these symbols can also be very powerful, strong reminders of who Jesus was and what Jesus stood for, and what Jesus continues to call us toward.
How ironic that we humans sometimes focus more on the concreteness of the symbols and lose sight of what they point to. Throughout church history, there have been huge conflicts over whether the bread and juice (or wine) actually become the body and blood of Jesus, or whether they are just reminders of him.
Let us remember what is most important about this time together as we share this symbolic meal with one another today. May this be a way for us to feel a much deeper meaning in life as we share this meal. May this time together enable us to become much more passionate about the things that Jesus was passionate about: giving food to those who are physically hungry and feeding those who are spiritually hungry; creating a different kind of world where all people have enough for the journey of life, and where no one is excluded from the table.
Symbols are important reminders for us. For the Hebrews, a rainbow was a symbol and a powerful reminder of God’s love, a reminder that after the floods of life, rainbows are still possible. For Joan and me, rainbows are a special symbol. On the evening we got engaged at the Lincoln Hill Inn, our waiter excitedly told us that outside there was a beautiful double rainbow in the sky. Whether coincidence or not, we both felt especially blessed by this beautiful visual spectacle of the evening.
Poet Ann Weems suggests that each of us are called to be “walking rainbows”:
A rainbow is not just a symphony of colors sent to calm the storm in our souls;
it is a talk with God, a mysterious, miraculous conversation with God, heart to heart,
the very heart of God saying to our hearts:
“I remember I am your God. Be my walking rainbows,
so that the whole world will know to whom you belong,
for I am the God who keeps promises,
and I have not forgotten our covenant.”
This is the hope of the church: that God keeps promises.
The mission of the church is to walk among the suffering and give,
for we are covenant keepers, walking rainbows,
bringing the hope of the good news to those in need.
As the hands and feet and voices of God, we are called to be walking rainbows, tangible reminders of God’s love for each person in our world. We have the opportunity now to make choices, to reach out to people who really do need us, to individuals who feel profoundly alone. There are lots of ways to reach out, but sometimes it is most helpful to make our caring tangible, to use tangible reminders, even rituals, to create a bridge across the chasm of isolation.
Dr. Rachel Remen offers a way to make compassion tangible:
One of the most common things people with cancer tell me is that experiences of hospitalization and treatment are profoundly isolating. I suspect that this sense of aloneness may even undermine the will to live. When we feel the support of others, many of us can face the unknown with greater strength. I often use ritual to help people at times like this.
For more than twenty years I have offered a very simple yet powerful ritual to people before their radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery. I suggest they meet together with some of their closest friends and family the day before their procedure. It does not matter how large or small the group is, but it is important that it be made up of those who are connected to them through a bond of the heart.
Before this meeting I suggest they find an ordinary stone, a piece of the earth, big enough to fit in the palm of their hand, and bring it to the meeting with them. The ritual begins by having everyone sit in a circle. In any order they wish to speak, each person tells the story of a time when they too faced a crisis.
People may talk about the death of important persons, the loss of jobs or of relationships, or even about their own illnesses. The person who is speaking holds the stone the patient has brought.
When they finish telling their story of survival, they take a moment to reflect on the personal quality that they feel helped them come through that difficult time. People will say such things as, “What brought me through was determination,” “What brought me through was faith,” “What brought me through was humor.”
When they have named the quality of their strength, they speak directly to the person preparing for surgery or treatment, saying, “I put determination into this stone for you,” or, “I put faith into this stone for you.”
Often what people say is surprising. Sometimes they tell of crises that occurred when they were young or in wartime that others, even family members, may not have known before, or they attribute their survival to qualities that are not ordinarily seen as strengths.
It is usually a moving and intimate meeting and often all the people who participate say that they feel strengthened and inspired by it. After everyone has spoken the stone is given back to the patient, who takes it with them to the hospital, to keep nearby and hold in their hand when things get hard.
Actually, no one has chemotherapy or radiation or goes into an operating room without the thoughts, hopes, and prayers of many people going with them. The stone seems to make all that a little more plain to people, and reminds them of the strength and beauty of what is natural. In an environment which is highly technical and sterile, it connects them to the people who love them. Ritual is one of the oldest ways to mobilize the power of community for healing. It makes the caring of the community visible, tangible, real.
–Kitchen Table Wisdom
There are rituals of this church family that are here to make the caring of this community visible and tangible and real! These are rituals today that remind us of the love of God, made tangible in bread and juice, reminders that God is with us, stronger than anything life can bring our way.
May we add new rituals to the ancient rituals, new ways to remind us that we are not alone- tangible, visible and real ways to experience the love of God, and the love of this extraordinary community of compassionate people.
May these rituals mobilize the power of this community of faith to become walking rainbows, to bring healing and wholeness and companionship in all of the places we find ourselves on the journey of our life.