Friends, I hope you’re as excited as I am about the upcoming in person worship on Pentecost Sunday. We have been absent from one another for such a very long time.
A verse of scripture comes to mind about our absence, Genesis 31: 49…”The Lord watch between me and thee, while we are absent one from the other.” Its a wonderful phrase, that is called Mizpah. I’ve seen it emblazoned on necklace charms in the shape of a heart. Sometimes, the heart has a been cracked in two, and lovers each wear a half. That’s nice. I even pastored a church with a Sunday School class named the Mizpah class.
Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but this is not such a sweet and sentimental saying as we might believe on the surface. If you read the surrounding story, you’ll find Jacob was fleeing from his Father-in-law Laban. Jacob wanted to return with his wives, children and flocks to the land of his family. Laban was in hot pursuit and Jacob feared for his very life. Once they meet, there is a covenant struck between the two to not do any harm, and the saying is meant to insure that no harm is done by either party to the other. Of course, that’s not how we have traditionally used the saying, again we think of it as God protected two persons who have great love for one another while they are apart.
Its this latter usurping of this scripture that I have used when praying for each of you while we have been absent from one another. I’ve loved and held each of you in my heart all this time, and my heart will swell beyond measure this coming Sunday when I get to see and embrace you.
All of this has me thinking about why it is we long for each other’s company. Why is it that our absence has made us hungry to see one another? We’ve heard it expressed “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but why is that so? Is it our familiarity with each other has us longing to be together? Is it simply that we are not happy when we are alone? Or, is there a deeper and more profound reason for our longing to be together?
We remember, in the beginning, God created us in God’s image. Why would God do that? What would make God create something to be so like God’s self? I can only think of one thing, loneliness. God has no beginning and no end, and is so unlike us finite beings, it is difficult to ascribe human feelings to the Divine. And yet, I can’t imagine the depth of loneliness an infinite deity would have to endure.
James Weldon Johnson, a poet, writer and organizer of the NAACP, wrote a piece entitled The Creation. In this piece of prose expresses just this sentiment, that God was lonely and that’s when creation came into being. Just as in the Genesis story, the crowning piece of God’s creation was humankind. Of course, this was copyrighted in 1927, so Johnson uses traditional language, “man” to refer to humankind. Still it is a beautiful retelling of the story of how we came to be crafted and created in God’s image.
“And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’ll make me a world.
And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!
Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!
Then God himself stepped down—
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.
Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas—
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed—
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled—
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.
Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.
Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good!
Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.
Then God sat down—
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
If in fact, we are created in God’s image as we believe, the reason for our loneliness would have to do with our origin. We are a part of God, created by God, and we were created for community. God made us to not be solitary beings, but one’s whose greatness and fullness can only be fully realized when gathered together. Its the same for the miracle of Pentecost. We’re told they were all gathered together in one place when the Holy Spirit swept over them. I am expecting to experience once again the fullness and movement of God and the Holy Spirit when I see your face.
May God watch between me and thee, until we meet this coming Lord’s Day!
Love and Peace,