Here lies 2020, and good riddance! This year has finally been laid to rest and 2020’s obituary is replete with tragedy and challenge. Nearly everyone was forced into a new normal as we navigated living through a global pandemic.
Even simple activities like watching the news or children going to school became overwhelming. Physical distancing eroded our community and inflicted involuntary isolation. Our nation was practically debilitated by disbelief as our death toll mounted. Millions of us lost our jobs and health insurance. Thousands lost family businesses.
In addition to COVID-19, some of us battled the twin pandemic of institutionalized racism and white supremacy. We learned of heartbreaking, devastating and downright terrifying events. The world witnessed the gruesome murder of George Floyd, when three police officers knelt on the altar of his black body and sacrificed him to the god of hate—just blocks away from my children’s elementary school.
Our congregation, Holy Trinity Lutheran in Minneapolis, was ground zero during the uprising, and the neighborhood remains virtually unrecognizable because of the fires during the civil unrest. For weeks, the only prayer I could find in my spirit was the psalmist’s lament, “How long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13:1).
Who could have known that we would have experienced the multilayered trauma of 2020? Our nation is hurting and grieving. Due to COVID-19, countless dreams have been deferred—baptisms, confirmations, graduations, weddings, honeymoons and even funerals. Some of us are tired and distrustful. Some of us are disillusioned by fierce partisan divisions. Some of us are painfully lonely.
But we can remain hopeful.
As we lay this year to rest and entomb all of the worry, frustration, disappointment and loss, we remember that we are resurrection people. While painful, the events of 2020 are sacred because our mothering God promises to be near to the brokenhearted.
In one way or another, we are all connected through the unprecedented events of 2020. Each of our stories connects us to every other child of God and, ultimately, to the overarching divine narrative. The grave of 2020 holds resurrection hope and, therefore, this burial ground is holy.
God is here and wherever God is, it is holy ground.
When I think of holy ground in our sacred texts, my mind goes to Moses. We hear his call story in Exodus and again in Acts. We encounter Moses at that amazing moment when he notices a burning bush. Although the briar plant is in flames, the blaze doesn’t consume it. Fire is fierce and destroys everything in its path. Not so with God’s flame.
We learn that God spoke to Moses from the inexplicable inferno: “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). The voice of God continues: I have seen the mistreatment of my people and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to rescue them. Moses, amazed and trembling, asks: “What is your name?” God responds: “I AM WHO I AM” (3:14).
My translation? I AM whatever I’ll need to be. God’s love for us is an unquenchable fire, and this great I AM is our hope.
Though raging forest fires have devastated more than 4 million acres in California alone, the destruction won’t consume our care for the environment. As we sift through the charred debris left in the wake of the Floyd uprising, we know our passion for racial justice won’t be extinguished. Even though COVID-19 has changed our world forever, we can trust that God’s promises are constant. Not even the vexing heat of unemployment and poverty will overcome our faith.
Hallowed ground seeks to restore the dignity of every person. Hallowed ground says we are children of God, regardless of political leanings. Hallowed ground has Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer as its goal— “that they may all be one” (John 17:21).
As resurrection people, our hope is unstoppable because God’s grace is invincible. God is here and wherever God is, it is holy ground. We begin 2021 with renewed hope, standing on hallowed ground and grounded in grace.