The word “elemeno” isn’t in the dictionary, but every child knows it. When you sing the alphabet song, you say, “a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,I,j,k, elemeno, p…” I have been preaching and blogging about the Hebrew letters, and this week, in the spirit of “elemeno,” I will be taking up three letters, l, m, and n, since we are moving in a fast rhythm as we lead up to Easter.
Two weeks ago, my friend and colleague, Rev. Paul Harris shared about the challenges of living the life of faith in the middle of the border crisis, and I understand he did an excellent job. Last Sunday, we received the gift of a wonderful Palm Sunday Cantata. This coming Sunday,apparently we have a holiday coming up… fast rhythm and full music around here.
The Hebrew letter, lamed, looks like a lightning bolt. When King Solomon was given the opportunity to ask for anything he wanted, he asked for something we often translate as “wisdom.” It all came to him like a lightning bolt. How wonderful that the man who could have asked for great power and wealth asked for wisdom. How wonderful that God blessed with wealth and powerstory gets better when you learn that the word we translate as “wisdom” is lieb shemah, a listening heart. How wonderful to long for a listening heart. In Hebrew culture, they did not make the distinction that we do between heart and head – emotion and intellect. To them, the heart, the lieb, was the center of it all, so a listening heart means both openness to new learning as well as sensitivity and understanding – true wisdom. The tall letter lamed begins the word heart, and the word lamed means both learning and teaching.
Many of us walked the labyrinth last week, a pattern on painted canvas that took up almost the entire sanctuary. We are excited and hopeful that one of our teenagers, Taylor, is planning to build us a permanent outdoor labyrinth as her Girl Scout project. Walking the labyrinth encourages you to listen as the movement along the path is a metaphor for our Christian walk.
It was a week of listening and wisdom-seeking for us at Covenant as we considered the plight of the people streaming across our Southern border and the challenge of helping them, and we walked another week through lent, listening for God’s voice in our own lives.
We have a growing number of children from the apartments across the street who have been coming on Wednesday nights. More come every week as they learn about the delicious food Carol and Vicki serve and the fun and joy that is Emma. They walked the labyrinth and took communion with us, and as I watched them, I realized that they are receiving something so great, something they won’t find anywhere else. I watched them whispering together as they tried to make sense of these new and different things, I watched people walking alongside them whose faith is strong and deep, I watched people who I know are suffering deep hurts, I watched Jacob lift up and break communion bread for the first time and was thankful we get to journey with him as he grows in the pastor role. I also watched the choir gather as worship morphed into choir practice and those who walked last got to walk with a soundtrack of heavenly voices and the excitement of people planning for something big.
In the theme of fast-moving rhythm, mem, the next letter comes upon us quickly. Mem begins and ends the word for water, mayim. It also begins the words for spiritual guide, maggid, and for heavenly messenger, moloch. This Sunday, we celebrated Palm Sunday, the day Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly, bringing living water and abundant life, coming to guide us to salvation, coming with the message of the good news.
Joy bursts out of us on Palm Sunday as it did that first Palm Sunday, for Jesus said that if his disciples were made to be silent, the rocks would cry out. Refusing to be discouraged that a giant Sunday morning race would compromise access to the church, we went to them, waving palms and looking for chances to invite people to worship. Mostly, though, we went to the race to be servants, and seven of us stationed ourselves in the cold and dark of the early morning, greeting the runners like the sun and helping them find their places. We got to practice true charity as we tried to be kind and helpful as a few people pushed their way ahead of others and tried to position themselves at the front of the line, ahead of those who arrived earlier. As everybody tried to move as fast as they could, we tried to remember to project peace.
When people come to church, it is often for the joyous times like Palm Sunday and Easter, avoiding the dark times, but our cantata captured the whole story of holy week. It was told so beautifully and creatively by the choir and orchestra. To make room for the celebration, the praise band moved outside for worship and it could not have been a more glorious day. How did everything get so green so fast? I looked out at the green lawn and gave thanks for the servants who take care of it for us. I was fed and refreshed.
The letter mem is a reminder of the depths of faith, the waters of creation, and the need we all have to be refreshed. The worship of the past week has been like standing under a waterfall – refreshing and life-giving, but fast moving, too.
Next week, our letter will be nun (pronounced more like “noon” than “none.”) It is the letter that symbolizes faith. What a place to find ourselves on Easter, the day we make the profound faith statement that Christ’s death and resurrection means we are promised new life, abundant life, and eternal life.
The letter “n” looks different in Arabic, but it is pronounced the same, “nun.” ISIS has been painting this letter on the doors and walls of Christian homes in Iraq and elsewhere as a way to terrorize them. The “n” stands for Nazarene, what they call Christians, and it is a reminder that Christians are being ordered to convert to Islam, pay high fees, leave their homes, or die. Many have been killed. How did things get so bad so fast? We will consider nun, this letter of faith on the greatest day of our faith. We consider what it costs and give thanks for what has been paid for us.
And the letter O? There isn’t a letter analogous to our O in the Hebrew alphabet, so we keep moving on, but my sermon on Easter Sunday will actually be all about “O” as in “Oh, wow!”
Elemeno – many letters and thoughts together this holy week – highs and lows – and all of it coming at us fast. I have been working hard to be intentional about slowing down and taking it all in, looking for the holy in all of it. May this week be holy for you in whatever way it finds you.