I have caught myself sighing a lot lately. It began – I think – weeks ago when I saw all the trucks driving south from Orangeville – making their way towards Ottawa. I think my first big sigh occurred when I saw a huge flag on the back of a truck. It was a professional produced flag, with profanity printed on it. Mothers had lined up their children on either side of highway 10 to take it all in… the anger - the hate. Very recently I visited one of our parishioners in his home to perform last rights. Surrounded by his wife and children and grandchildren. They had spent months preparing for that moment – yet - the looks on their faces – proved that we are never ever truly prepared for these sorts of goodbyes. I sat by his bedside, sighing heavily as they wept. We stand in solidarity these days with the Ukrainian people. Yet we feel helpless. It would seem - we can but sigh deeply.
On Ash Wednesday we gather together for the imposition of ashes - acknowledging our human frailty. Our earthly bodies are made of dust and to dust we shall return. As we begin our journey into Lent this year – we do so as the Lord our God commands us to: trembling – rending our hearts – with deep sighs. We also turn to our Lord in hope. Hope that God’s promises of grace, mercy, and steadfast love will rise to the surface and that we will share in a new enduring life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we sense the loss that inevitably comes from the limits of our own flesh, we are called to fast; to give alms; and to do so in secret. Our Lord also commands us to pray in secret. “To go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” Christian mystics for centuries have understood this to mean praying without words; sitting in silence; wrestling with the nothingness – the emptiness – knowing that God is even there.
Paul in his letter to the Romans reminds us how the Spirit of God helps us in our weakness, interceding with sighs too deep for words. I read once in a wonderful book called “The end of hope, the beginning”, written by one of my professors – The Rev. Dr. Pam McCarroll at The Toronto School of Theology, about the prayer of sighing. Since last Friday – this prayer of sighing has become my prayer. YHWH. The Hebrew name for God revealed to Moses in the book of Exodus. YHWH. When I feel the need to sigh – I have been trying to remember to change my sigh into this simple prayer. And then I am reminded of the indwelling presence of the Holy One. Try it with me. Breathe in… “YH”. Breathe out… “WH”. YHWH. Inarticulate as the word itself; full of mystery and depth is our God. This form of prayer – this sighing takes us to places too deep for words. In those places too deep for words we come face to face with our loving God.
As we sigh and weep our way through Lent we create a holy sacred 40 days. We journey with Jesus towards the cross at Golgotha. And we journey towards new life that rises from the ashes. We Christians have been called an Easter people. Meaning simply that we have a true and sure hope in the power of love to overcome all suffering – all evil. This power of love that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power at work in us – that can carry us through the darkest of days and bring us to new life in Christ. Amen.