Lead me, Lord, through your loving embrace.
I have spent a fair amount of time in airports lately and I love to people-watch when I’m in the terminal. Amid the chaos of people coming and going there are also the moments of loving connection — particularly when a plane arrives and its occupants make their way to baggage-claim. Almost always there are loved ones waiting eagerly to embrace those who have come home. Only seldom do you see something as distant and awkward as a handshake. No these moments of reunion are almost always accompanied by a loving embrace.
This morning (Sunday March 31) the gospel lesson was Luke chapter 15 — a parable about a child who left with his inheritance and after squandering it all in dissolute living turned back home in trepidation. Luke tells us that when:
“ . . . he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him."
The God we find throughout the Psalms is often described in ways that emphasize God’s close contact with us. Psalm 32:8 finds God saying “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” Psalm 139 speaks of a God who hems us in, behind and before, and lays God’s hand upon us. In the Epistle of James we find this exhortation (James 4:8 NRSV], “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” When the prophet Isaiah finally turns the corner and begins to give news of comfort and hope in Isaiah chapter forty, the image is of a mighty warrior God who will accomplish the rescue of the people in exile, but Isaiah immediately appends another image to that of mighty warrior — God is like a shepherd who tenderly carries the lambs when necessary —
“Is. 40:11 [NRSV] He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”
When we pray, “Lead me Lord, by your loving embrace,” we are acknowledging the ways that God comes near to us and envelops us in God’s love. One way of thinking about our time in prayer is that we go to be with God and rather than talking, we simply rest in God’s grace. It is a form of prayer that eschews wordiness in preference of the power of simply being close to someone we love. Indeed, one of the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms that have been used by pilgrims for millennia as they ascend to Jerusalem) gives us a description of this way of praying. In Robert Alter’s beautiful translationPsalm 131:1-2,
A song of ascents for David.
LORD, my heart has not been haughty, nor have my eyes looked too high, nor have I striven for great things, nor for things too wondrous for me. But I have calmed and contented myself like a weaned babe on its mother– like a weaned babe I am with myself.
As our pilgrimage through Lent brings us ever closer to the trauma of Good Friday and the mystery of the Holy Saturday, and the power of the Day of Resurrection, we do well to rest in God’s loving embrace. It is there that we grow in confidence that in life and in death we belong to God — and that makes all the difference!
Daily Collect: Lord of Love, you come to us as your word, made flesh. Yours is an incarnated love. Help us to not only feel your loving embrace, but also to understand that we are now entrusted with the noble work of bringing your love to others. As we make our way along the pilgrimage of faith help us to be the sort of disciples who embody your love in word & action, in private and in public, always. Amen.