By Ed Little

A Reading from Joel 1:15-2:11

15 Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near,
   and as destruction from the Almighty it comes.
16 Is not the food cut off
   before our eyes,
joy and gladness
   from the house of our God?

17 The seed shrivels under the clods,
   the storehouses are desolate;
the granaries are ruined
   because the grain has failed.
18 How the animals groan!
   The herds of cattle wander about
because there is no pasture for them;
   even the flocks of sheep are dazed.

19 To you, O Lord, I cry.
For fire has devoured
   the pastures of the wilderness,
and flames have burned
   all the trees of the field.
20 Even the wild animals cry to you
   because the watercourses are dried up,
and fire has devoured
   the pastures of the wilderness.

1 Blow the trumpet in Zion;
   sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
   for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
2 a day of darkness and gloom,
   a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
   a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
   nor will be again after them
   in ages to come.

3 Fire devours in front of them,
   and behind them a flame burns.
Before them the land is like the garden of Eden,
   but after them a desolate wilderness,
   and nothing escapes them.

4 They have the appearance of horses,
   and like warhorses they charge.
5 As with the rumbling of chariots,
   they leap on the tops of the mountains,
like the crackling of a flame of fire
   devouring the stubble,
like a powerful army
   drawn up for battle.

6 Before them peoples are in anguish,
   all faces grow pale.
7 Like warriors they charge,
   like soldiers they scale the wall.
Each keeps to its own course,
   they do not swerve from their paths.
8 They do not jostle one another,
   each keeps to its own track;
they burst through the weapons
   and are not halted.
9 They leap upon the city,
   they run upon the walls;
they climb up into the houses,
   they enter through the windows like a thief.

10 The earth quakes before them,
   the heavens tremble.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
   and the stars withdraw their shining.
11 The Lord utters his voice
   at the head of his army;
how vast is his host!
   Numberless are those who obey his command.
Truly the day of the Lord is great;
   terrible indeed — who can endure it?

Meditation

Joel continues to paint a devastating picture of natural disaster. A plague of locusts has wreaked havoc, destroying the economy and disrupting lives. Even the beasts suffer:  “How the animals groan!” This entire section of the book of Joel paints a bleak picture of relentless destruction and suffering.

And yet, in the midst of these grim realities, Joel points us — albeit briefly — to the source of hope: “To you, O Lord, I cry.” In this single, short, and agonized prayer, Joel remembers that only God can rescue us from danger. The prayer requests no specific solution. The situation is so dire that Joel is unable to articulate a particular outcome. Words fall short. And so he simply cries out to God in despair and in hope.

Once more, Joel anticipates St. Paul. “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). Our prayers, like Joel’s in the face of a plague, cannot adequately express the desires of our heart. But God infuses our poor prayers with the power of the Spirit, and our inarticulate groans are transformed, by divine providence, into vehicles of grace. When our prayers become dry or routine, when we are unable to express to God what most deeply troubles us, when we are distracted or overwhelmed, it is sufficient to say, “To you, O Lord, I cry.” God can take care of the rest.

The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

Diocese of Rumonge (Burundi), the Rt. Rev. Pedaculi Birakengana
Diocese on the Coast (Nigeria), the Rt. Rev. J. Ebunoluwa Ogunele
Diocese of Kwoi (Nigeria), the Rt. Rev. Paul Zamani
Church of the Redeemer, Sarasota, Florida