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It’s not always easy to feel the joy that’s expressed in Psalm 47, the response in today’s lectionary readings. (“All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with cries of gladness.”) Usually when we approach this weekend on the calendar there is a deep sense of celebration but, even in happier times, there is a tinge of sadness as we remember all the brave men and women who have given their lives to keep us safe, especially in wartime. This year it is even more complicated as we face this weekend from the midst of COVID 19, the most brutal and dangerous disease of our time, not limited to warring countries but spread across the entire world. There is a lot of fear of infection as well as frustration and anger toward people who seem to disregard warnings of how celebration can lead to infection.

In Lynn Bauman’s commentary on the psalm today I read a paragraph that got me thinking. He says the following:

There are times when, as C.S. Lewis said, we are “surprised by joy.” The psalmist may be caught in one of those moments of surprise when the knowledge of God overwhelms human consciousness and history is seen in the light of divine reality. Have you ever had such a glimpse where everything shifted and you saw the world and your circumstances in an entirely new, transcendent light?

While this may be a little off the mark, I can point to one such experience of a Memorial Day weekend a few years ago when I was watching the celebration from the White House on television. Usually well-done events, this was the first time I remember famous people – either celebrities or military leaders – taking the parts of “real-life soldiers” and recounting their experiences of war. The most touching moment was at the conclusion of each narration when the narrator moved out from the stage to the audience to embrace and thank the real life hero of the story they had just told (or the family if the hero was deceased). The overwhelming sense that arose in me was a mix of gratitude for their bravery and patriotism and a recognition of the strong bonds of camaraderie as they spoke of their comrades-in-arms with whom they had served. I actually felt a joy for the gift of life in the United States where daily we can see or read about diverse outpourings of what can only be named as love of country or fellow citizens. I think at this moment of the healthcare workers who are spending themselves to save lives of people whom they do not know but whom they serve nevertheless…and whom they celebrate as the lucky ones are wheeled from the hospital on their way home.

Tears are indications of sadness, pain or joy and this weekend is about all of those feelings. May we be thankful for the good and forgiving for what we find disturbing this weekend and may we always be grateful, respectful and caring for the life we have been given in this vast, complicated and beautiful country that is ours.