I’ve often found borders to be interesting places. Sometimes they are markers. Whenever we head north, getting over the border is a time to pause ready for the next leg of the journey. There was a time when we would cheer or boo depending on the direction of travel! The landscape doesn’t change significantly, and yet there can be a different atmosphere and language. At the moment borders are being used to control or define the management of Covid-19. We are now allowed to go north and cross that border, some are heading west to cross that border, and those coming from Spain have to pause 14 days. But we can not yet visit our son in Leicester.
Our Bible reading this week is set at a border crossing. A few weeks ago I was listening to the experience of people who visited Palestine as part of a URC visit. They found the checkpoints to be a means of control and oppression, and Bethlehem, so beloved in our Christmas narrative is suffering because of it. At the same time I was writing a prayer for a Synod pamphlet that will be published later in the year, so this was the prayer I submitted.
Skip with the Peacemakers
May we play hopscotch at checkpoints,
chanting ancient skipping rhymes.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around.
May we patch daisies onto khaki pockets,
cultivating landing strips with seed-bombs.
Say a prayer, say a prayer, touch the ground.
May we dance freestyle at the border
sharing welcome howls of laughter.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, jump up high.
May we throw petals at broken fences
widening pathways for hand-crafters.
Say a prayer, say a prayer, bless our cry.
May we stroll through deserted camps
picking over well worn pointless phrases.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, bend down low.
May we spray arrows of hope and awe,
spinning rainbow yarns of tenderness.
Say a prayer, say a prayer, peace may grow.
Prayers & Reflection for 2 August 2020
The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love
The Lord is good to all,
with compassion on all that has been made.
Psalm 145: 8-9,
Take this moment, sign, and space
take my friends around
here among us make the place
where your love is found.
Take the time to call my name,
take the time to mend
who I am and what I’ve been
all I’ve failed to tend.
Bible Genesis 32:22-31.
We have moved forward some 20 years. Leah, Rachel, Jacob and their family have prospered. Jacob’s management of the flock, his ability to breed spotted or speckled sheep and goats and to ensure that the strongest animals became part of his flock have served them well. But of course this has also bred resentment from Laban and his sons, and so together they decide it’s time to leave and head to Canaan. We meet them again at the border, there is no way back and yet ahead of them is Esau. Does he still resent Jacob for stealing his blessing? Jacob sends forward peace offerings, then his wives, maidservants and children and spends the night alone.
Perhaps this is the first time he has been alone since he fled from Esau, and once again in this solitude, filled with fear and uncertainty, he experiences God. This encounter is far more visceral than the first. There is no encouraging vision, instead they wrestle through the night, matching one another in power and ferocity. At daybreak Jacob demands a blessing before he will let this wrestler go. The blessing is forthcoming, but with it comes a new name and permanent limp. Jacob is now Israel, one who has striven with God and with humans, and has prevailed.
There are moments in any lifetime that are a struggle. Often the way in which we respond to those struggles will determine how we feel about such times. We live in a moment where the consequences of 500 years of profiteering are being confronted. Whether it is the legacy of slavery, nation building, or climate catastrophe it feels like we are standing on a border, struggling with our past and striving with alternative visions for the future direction of humanity. Such places will never feel easy, but we also know that Jesus has crossed these borders before us, given us the talents and skills to share with one another. God trusts us to strive for communities filled with peace and justice. May we know the name we have been given, the scars we carry and the blessings of God’s abundant love.
The Lord upholds all who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you
and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
Take my talents and my skills
take what’s yet to be;
let my life be yours, and yet
let it still be me.
John Bell (b1949) & Graham Maule (1958-2020)