Written by Patricia Benoit
Yes, we’re hunkered down to escape present the spread of COVID-19. We can take comfort from our online connections such as Sunday worship and the Book of Common Prayer. St. Luke’s is alive, working and helping others. Our congregation is alive and open to the community.
So, how did other people in previous hard times handle real restrictions, deprivations and desolations?
Easter Sunday, March 31, 1918, was a bittersweet observance, full of dark humor and gas masks on the front lines of World War I.
As First Lt. Sylvester Warren of Belton (1886-1945) wrote to his mother from his post in France, he included another letter from a chaplain, the Rev. Dr. Robert Freeman (1878-1940) who conducted Easter services.
As the U.S. entered the war, Freeman took leave from his pulpit to become a roving military chaplain to front-line soldiers.
“Now you might well have expected that these men would have come in gas masks to listen to me,” Freeman wrote, “but no, they are kind, even if they are funny. I have not had a better audience anywhere in France – keen for a joke, ready for a prayer.”
Freeman visited hospitals and bunkers during Holy Week and Easter. He viewed his ministry as “new congregations” composed of all uniformed men, hungry for the sacred word with “a good many lighter touches than the average homiletical lecture.”
“Here’s hoping that the solemnity of war may lift some of the solemnity from the church. You can be serious without being so fearfully solemn,” Freeman said.
By sundown on Easter Sunday, Freeman was weary and wary yet hopeful.
“We stepped out into the darkness with hearts all full of peace. It had been a good day, a good Easter! Then the drum-fire came rattling in from the east, and the sky grew red as if the sun had outrun his hour,” Freeman wrote. “But there, over against my billet, a great bulk stood silhouetted against the sky, hissing as if it were being teased into anger. I said my prayer of thanksgiving and turned to dream of a greater Easter yet to come, when out of the graves of the nations shall rise again the Son of God.”
Sometimes we are caught in difficult times but the love evident on Easter morning gives hope to a weary world.
African American writer Zora Neale Hurston wrote of her times in the segregated South:
Fear was the greatest emotion on the planet Earth
and I said, No my dear sista
Fear will make us move to save our lives
To save our own skins
Will make us save other people’s skins and lives
So love is primary at this particular point in time.
Jesus urges us to love, even when times are tough and unfair.
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus Lover Of My Soul
Text by Charles Wesley, 1740
Jesus, lover of my soul,
let me to thy bosom fly,
while the nearer waters roll,
while the tempest still is high:
hide me, O my Savior, hide,
till the storm of life is past;
safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last.
Other refuge have I none,
hangs my helpless soul on thee;
leave, ah, leave me not alone,
still support and comfort me.
All my trust on thee is stayed,
all my help from thee I bring;
cover my defenseless head
with the shadow of thy wing.
Thou, O Christ, art all I want;
more than all in thee I find;
raise the fallen, cheer the faint,
heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is thy name,
I am all unrighteousness;
false and full of sin I am,
thou art full of truth and grace.
Plenteous grace with thee is found,
grace to cover all my sin;
let the healing streams abound,
make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art:
freely let me take of thee,
spring thou up within my heart,
rise to all eternity.