The Rev. Nina Barlow Schmid is pastor of First Congregational Church of South Windsor, CT.
Scripture: Jeremiah 31:7-14 (NRSV)
For thus says the Lord:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
‘Save, O Lord, your people,
the remnant of Israel.’
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labour, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.
Hear the word of the Lord, O nations,
and declare it in the coastlands far away;
say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.’
For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.
They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.
Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,
says the Lord.
Reflection: How Can We Keep From Singing?
“Why aren’t we singing yet?” This refrain, if I may, is heard in a lot of worshipping communities these days. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused this melodious and meaningful form of praise to be curtailed for many a month, across denominations, faiths, and houses of worship.
Some houses of worship continued to sing from the outset of the pandemic. Some are resurrecting choirs and congregational singing. Some are trying masked humming or all-out joyful, un-masked crooning. The range of adaptations runs the gamut.
While every community is juggling the singing ball, the concept of virus-spreading aerosols flung by the trills of our throats to “the farthest parts of the earth” is a less than welcome tune! Singing is praising God with our voices. The ancient ritual of lifting our hearts to God in song is soulfully missed. How in the world do we keep from singing?
I wonder if anyone has counted how many times the word ‘sing’ or derivatives are mentioned throughout the biblical canon? Why, it may be almost like counting the stars in the sky! The importance of singing in worship can’t be overstated. What to do??? How long will we have to keep from singing?
Recently, I saw a sign outside one church that read: “Closed Until Further Notice Due to Pandemic. March, 2020.” Sadly, no singing going on there. As we experienced when locked out of our sanctuaries by COVID in 2020, things can always be worse…singing or no singing.
That said, in this Sunday’s lection the prophet Jeremiah mentions singing twice as he foretells the exiled Israelite remnant going from worse to exponentially better; that the Lord “will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,” to “sing aloud with gladness.” The despondent exiles will be ransomed and redeemed from “hands too strong”…the oppressive Babylonians.
They shall “sing aloud with gladness” and “sing aloud on the height of Zion.” All of them: “a great company” – everyone from the physically infirm and the sightless to those pregnant and giving birth; the hopeless, the wailing, the displaced. With tears of despair turned to songs of joy, God will bring them back to their homeland. When all was thought to be lost and their way of life forfeited forever because of forces beyond their control, God promises to show up and keep God’s covenant with God’s people.
These prophetic words resonate of hope during our own profoundly exilic time caused by the pandemic. Despite great leaps in vaccinations since 2020, as I wrote this the positivity rate in Connecticut was at 5.96% (editor note: as of 12/27 it is 9.02%). The prospect for some communities of no singing for Advent and Christmas, maybe even Epiphany, was looming. How would we keep from singing at Christmastime?
Every community has to do what’s best for them. And at our church, we have held off from singing and adopted a phrase coined by our Pandemic Team Chair, Vicky Margiott: “Pray for the Gray!” – a reference to the day every state’s COVID map is all gray – COVID-free! Out of the pandemic exile and all it has kept us from doing!
As we begin a New Year, may we find inspiration in the words of Jeremiah and God’s promises of new life, when we will once again be able to dance, feast and sing aloud together without fear! And not have to keep from singing!
Sentient, Singing God, Thank you for the days that are not any worse and the hope of your promises which make everything better. May we all pray for the gray and sing aloud again in praise of you in your good time! Lord hear our prayer! Amen
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers of Intercession:
- For the families and friends of more than 809,000 who have died due to the Covid-19 disease
- For the victims and their families of the 684 mass shootings already carried out in 2021
- For the families and friends of Rev. Charlotte Penfield Gosselink, UCC pastor and former moderator of the Rhode Island Conference. Charlotte died on Dec. 10
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the hope that comes with the beginning of a new year
This Week in History:
December 26, 2021 (yesterday) Bishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, South African Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist for racial justice and LGBT rights, died on Sunday, December 26 at the age of 90. Tutu was instrumental in tearing down apartheid in South Africa and continued to fight for racial justice throughout his lifetime. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and is considered one of the world's most prominent champions of human rights.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Nina Schmid, minister at First Congregational Church of South Windsor, was ordained at Fishers Island Union Chapel, Fishers Island, NY on October 23, 2016 and is a 2015 Eden Theological Seminary graduate -- as well as a proud grandmother.