April 26, 2020
Third Sunday of Easter
(Acts 2:14, 22-33; Luke 24:13-35)
The Jewish people have blessings for almost everything (actually so do Catholics, but bear with me), a blessing for food, for lighting candles, for special days, and for every day. And the most typical beginning for a Hebrew blessing are the words “Baruch Atah”.
Baruch Atah – Atah means “You.” The blessings are focused on the word You. One thing to learn from this is that one should not just relate to God as “He” (or “She” if you prefer). One should also relate to Him as Atah, You (notice the capitalization). We should relate to Him directly, personally, one on one, and heart to heart, not simply by speaking about Him, but speaking from your heart directly to Him! This is a big theological meaning behind Atah.
Any blessing, if we are to think about it, should start with God. God is first, everything else is second. Let that sink in a little. We certainly don’t live that way most of the time, do we? It is crucial to put God first. When we pray, we should try to not put our problems or requests first. This is difficult to do. I struggle with that – if we are honest, we all do. The focus and the beginning of the Hebrew blessing is the word Atah, You. The blessing is not me centered, but Atah-centered.
So, a life of blessing is an Atah-centered heart. Let go of yourself. Put Him first, His will first, His desires first, and His glory first. And to live an Atah-centered life, you must focus on the other atahs, on every other you in your life, putting them above yourself as well. It is a life of love that is the life of blessing. “Love the Lord your God … and love your neighbor as yourself.”
Now Baruch means to “bless” – you probably already figured that out, good for you! Therefore, you should not only live a You-centered life, but make it your specific aim to bless the You in your life. Make it the purpose of your life, above everything else, every other aim and purpose, to bless God! And then make it your purpose to bless every other you in your life.
Two simple words. Baruch and Atah. Make it your life’s purpose to Baruch your Atah. Bless your God!
This certainly seems easier said than done in a climate of social distancing. Often times we may find ourselves shaking our fist at God – our Atah. Not much Baruch for Atah sometimes. There is no easy prescription that I can give anyone during this trying time. But I can tell you, that God is certainly weeping with us.
Remember when Jesus arrived at the tomb of Lazarus? All those people weeping, and mourning moved Jesus – moved God to tears. It is no different now. He is weeping again!
Yes, God could certainly intervene and just make all of this disappear but doing so would be counterintuitive to His approach to human free will and our existence in the way we have lived. Are we at fault for the Covid-19 virus? I suspect that question can be answered and argued on both sides of the pews, but the answer is something only God knows.
One thing I am certain of, God is not punishing us. I really dislike hearing those who claim to be religious leaders claim this is some sort of punishment – especially as a punishment for a specific group of people! NO IT IS NOT! God doesn’t work that way. However, He has indeed allowed this virus to continue for reasons we may never be able to understand. Neither has He abandoned us.
I think, as heart wrenching as it is, God wants us to do some of this work ourselves, with a little helping hand from Him here and there. We must take what we know and what we are learning and apply it. But we must also accept that sometimes God wants to respond in ways like He did with Job. Sometimes we need to shake ourselves a little and see things we don’t often see and/or refuse to see. As God told Job, there are simply things our finite minds cannot comprehend. We simply do not know what He is doing behind the scenes.
The reality is, we do not know God’s intention in all this. But, we do know that He is certainly in it with us. He hasn’t deserted us. He is most certainly in all our first responders who are on the front lines of the battle with this terrible disease. They are focusing on all the other atahs in their (and our) lives. Even if we may not see it or know it, God is in this with us. God is working through all these magnificent people.
It may be hard to focus on being good at emulating our Jewish brothers and sisters and sending out our Baruch Atah’s right now, but I encourage you to try. He is hearing our prayers!
The difficult part of this is that indeed it is a horrible time, but God will make some good of it. It is up to each of us to help make that happen. There are so many wonderful stories out there about so many people who are focusing on other atahs! Many people are in great need as well as great distress, and it is up to us to be there for them in any way we can. God wants us to not push it off all on Him, but to take action ourselves as well. Sometimes that action is as simple as staying home.
It is my hope, that not only will all of you take action in whatever small way you can – considering the social distancing we must currently embrace – but to also remember how fragile life can be at times. Because it is fragile, we should all spend more time Baruching, our Atah. We need to remember who created us and who saves us.
We have lost some people to this terrible virus, and unfortunately still more will be lost, but with faith and understanding that God is working with those who can turn this around, these losses will soon end. Know, that those we have lost and grieve and mourn over, are in the bosom of God now. They are looking down on us and helping to inspire us to continue on.
It is my prayer and hope, that as soon as this ends, and it will end, that many will flock back to churches – especially those who have been away – and lift up some Baruch Atah’s, lift up some thanks, lift up some the worship that we may not have always been so good at. That we will remember all those on the front lines of this and remember them in special ways and especially in prayer.
We will all be grateful for being able to have communion and companionship with our fellow humans when this is over. Let’s not let this turn us all into digital people to the point we forsake human interaction, that we forsake our community of churches and thus God too. God created us to be social beings!
The economy, it will take time to recover, but it will also depend on our faith in what lies ahead. That, my friends, depends more on us than we realize. It depends on us having some faith in the great Atah also!
I am not the most eloquent speaker (or writer in this case of social distancing pastoral approach), nor would I be a success at being a motivational speaker, but know that my prayers do not cease. My life has been quite rotten the past three years, as some of you know, but it cannot compare to that which so many are going though now. Even so, it helped to awaken within me that I needed to get back to doing more Baruch Atah’s. Blessing God!
So, this week, I encourage – in fact I challenge – everyone to find something to be thankful for in the coming weeks ahead. Take some time to sit with God. No social distancing is required to sit with Him. Remember to say to Him – Baruch Atah! I Bless You, my God!
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA