READINGOld Testament: Jeremiah 22:13-23
Psalms: Psalms 69
New Testament: Romans 8:12-27
Gospel: John 6:41-51
Evening Psalms: Psalms 73
“How you will groan when pangs come upon you...”
“The whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”
It was Lent, a little more than two weeks ‘til Easter, a Friday night easing into Saturday morning, twenty years ago. I had fallen asleep in a chair in a room in “old” Loudoun Hospital, unable to keep watch through the night on a labor that had not progressed. At about one o’clock the quiet space was rent by a series of swelling grunts and shrieks. I stumbled through a waking fog. Sheri’s water had broken and left a treacherous puddle on the floor, as she struggled to free herself from bedclothes and a tangle of tubes and monitor probes. The attending physician arrived on the scene and with wide-eyed wonderment uttered, “Oh my.” But it was altogether normal, natural, if a bit messy and frenzied. There was no return to slumber. Simply, the Time (and within the hour, my daughter Michaela) had arrived.
No man writes from true knowledge, not Jeremiah nor Paul nor I, of such events. I was there, but only to observe. I was deeply invested in a joyful outcome, but I wasn’t doing the painful, excruciating, bloody what’s-happening-to-me-now-and-next work. Metaphors are imperfect, but the pangs of labor do impress on us the scope and gravity of fate for those who (in Jeremiah’s day, and in ours) disdain the prophet’s warnings against violence and oppression: when the appointed day arrives, there will be no escape, no returning to comfortable life for those who cheated others to gain fleeting pleasures.
The thought that all of God’s creation is groaning in labor is a bit more difficult to wrap my thoughts around. What will happen to this natural world through which, in mortal life, we briefly pass? Paul seems to say that the Earth, beautifully and wonderfully formed, resilient yet fragile, subject to damage and chaos, will ultimately be redeemed by the same Spirit that is in Christ.
Are we awake yet to Nature’s groaning, or do we slumber? We are made stewards of this planet, but will not escape the consequences of willful destruction or callous neglect. Can we let the groans that are within us join in prayer and obey that Spirit that will attend the birth of New Heavens and New Earth?