Reflection by Pastor Jonathan Linman of Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church in Arlington, VA.
26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)
I am writing this reflection on election day before noon as requested by our Synod. Who knows what will unfold today – and in the coming days and weeks and months? As you read these words, we know more than when I wrote these words. Whatever is to be, God help us. How do we pray in times like these? For solace, I cannot help but turn to that remarkable passage in Romans about the Spirit interceding for the saints with sighs too deep for words, especially when we are weak and do not know how to pray….
I had just returned from Arlington on October 22, 2019, having gotten the green light from the Congregation Council at Resurrection Lutheran Church to proceed with the call process there, when my son’s mom called me in New York City to say that Nathan was suddenly gravely ill, and that I needed to get to Phoenix as soon as possible. At age ten, and otherwise completely healthy, Nathan had a catastrophic stroke. Sitting in Newark Airport in the middle of the night and on the plane early the next morning, I had no idea what to pray or how. I found myself drawn to these cries that emerge from the pages of scripture: let this cup pass from me, but not my will but yours be done; into your hands I commend my spirit; Lord, have mercy – Christ, have mercy – Lord, have mercy. And then I found myself also praying that brief prayer from the late Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjold, “For all that has been – thank you. For all that will be – yes.”
Emergency surgery saved my son’s life, but I spent six months in Phoenix with Nathan during his long and complicated recovery that required additional surgeries and rehabilitation. I prayed these same prayers every day during that odyssey of his recovery to health and strength. I prayed these same prayers every day as I discerned the call to Resurrection, Arlington. I pray these same prayers still, every day, as we endure the pandemic, racism, economic collapse for so many, the ravages of climate change, this election season…. These prayers, which I invite you also to pray, are elemental and trustworthy, inspired by the biblical witness. These prayers have been on the lips of our savior and the saints. These prayers have their origin in the Spirit’s own prayers for us. These prayers are perhaps just enough when we do not know how to pray as we ought.
For Your Pondering in Silence:
Be still, taking enough time to become aware of the stirrings of the Holy Spirit within you and among us.
God in Christ, let this cup pass from us; yet not what we want but what you want…. (cf. Matthew 26:39b)
Into your hands we commend our spirits….
(cf. Luke 23:46a)
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy….
Night is drawing nigh. For all that has been – thanks. For all that will be – yes.
Accompanied by sighs too deep for words… By the intercession of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name. For Christ’s sake. Amen.