By Sherry Black
A Reading from Joel 1:15-2:2(3-11)
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 withered.
18 How the animals groan!
The herds of cattle wander about
because there is no pasture for them;
even the flocks of sheep are perishing.
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 war horses 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?
As global citizens in the 21st century, most of us don’t believe that God sends plagues of locusts or other natural disasters. We don’t point to them as “signs” from the Almighty calling us to repent.
Still, they do give us pause.
We will undoubtedly remember 2020 as the year our world changed because of COVID-19 and the deaths that resulted. Also in 2020 there were huge plagues of locusts in East Africa and South Asia. We continue to have devastating floods and fires, drought and famine. Plague and disaster are not things of the past.
In the time of Joel, they did believe that plagues and pestilence were sent by God. And why? To get the attention of God’s people. This was a call to wake up, to cry to God, to mourn and wail and repent. The dire destruction of the locusts and the ensuing lack of food for man and beast, lack of sacrifices for the priests, called for an urgent response. Blow the trumpet! Sound the alarm! This was a time for lament.
The call for lament leading to repentance has not changed. To lament is to bring our grief and sorrow to God, to acknowledge the ugliness in our own lives and in the life of the world. We also saw in 2020 services of lament, hope, and healing in response to the violent killing of George Floyd and many others. Lament is a proper response to both disaster and injustice.
We offer prayers of lamentation for racism, sexism, and misogyny, and for all the ways we have hurt others. We lament our part in the climate crisis, our lack of care for creation. We lament of “things done and left undone.” I invite you to take a few minutes today to turn to page 267 in the Book of Common Prayer and pray the Litany of Penitence, also available here.
The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for ten years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.
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The Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland & Labrador – The Anglican Church of Canada
The Diocese of Southwest Florida