Waking From Sleep … Three Years Later

Romans 13:8-14

It is fascinating now to look back on where my heart was three years ago at just this time. I would invite you to look back at your own ‘time capsules’: in journal entries or old sermons.  In some ways it seems so distant.  In other ways like yesterday.

We were then still in the grip of a world wide pandemic, a time unlike any one of us had ever known before.

I write below of what I had awakened to in that time.

And I wonder at what is newly awakened in me now, these three years later:

  • For instance, I have a better sense now of the deep urgency we all felt to ‘get back to normal,’ and of how in some ways that was possible and in other ways, that ‘normal’ will likely never be again.
  • I know more deeply the toll of grief untended and of how some patterns put in place then seem to have remained.  On the one hand, we are grateful for the chance to ‘attend’ funerals via YouTube or Zoom and what a gift that often is.  On the other hand, more and more have abandoned rituals of grief altogether or are putting them off until they are somehow less helpful. Or at least, in my observation, not as helpful as they might have been if they had been shared sooner.
  • I am witnessing first hand our institutions seeking to reshape themselves and the grief and hope mingled in that.  Indeed, I am witnessing it up close in the congregation I call home.  Every day feels like a stretch.  It can be and often is exhausting.
  • Indeed, I am awake to the possibility, even the certainty, that nothing will be as it was, not really, and I am looking for community where together we can bolster one another as we seek to look forward with hope.

And all of these are just pandemic related.  They do not touch the kind of awakening I know in myself as I tend personal losses, as I learn again to try to rest more deeply, at I wonder at what God is doing in me, or as I yearn for God’s leading all over the place, personally and otherwise.

So I wonder now these things with you.

  • As you read what I offered below three years ago, what does it stir in you?
  • What was awakened then in you that remains awake and what has fallen back asleep?
  • In what other ways and to what other things are you now awakened — both in  yourself and in the world?
  • And in this time, what does it mean to you to ‘put on the armor of light’ and to first, and always, love?
  • Finally, how can we be of support to one another as we seek to be and do all of these things?

This is what I wrote three years ago:

It is now the moment to wake from sleep.


For the day is near.

The time of darkness is coming to an end.

And it is time to live like this is so.

I have always loved both the promise and the inherent urgency of these words.

Never mind that Paul’s sense of the timing of Jesus’ return was far more imminent than anything you and I have likely ever held. Never mind that many believe that the likelihood of these promises being fully realized at any time in the near future is slim. Never mind all of this. I am lifted up by the certainty that it is ours to respond today. If not sooner. For we live in the light of this future. Whenever it comes to pass.

So it is that today I am thinking about what it is I have been ‘sleeping through’ all this time.

  • Things like how my own deep grief is but a tiny reflection of the grief of the world. But of how this is all tied together somehow.
  • Or of how God is somehow using this time when most every day I feel as though I am in over my head to remind me, invite me, urge me to lean more deeply on God’s gifts than on my own. More than ever before.
  • Or of how powerfully connected we are to one another and how vulnerable we are, each of us, all of us to an invisible virus and how, in the end,  that which separates us is small. And also how that which separates us is also huge as we have different resources to address its potential raging in each of our bodies. How some simply have better access to care than others. Indeed, how race and class divide. As it seems they always have in the place I call home.
  • Or of how powerfully damaging it is to be kept apart from one another. How, for instance, long-trusted rituals for dealing with grief and loss can no longer be relied upon. Of how different it all feels when masks are worn and distance is kept and even shared music cannot lift us now. At least not like it did.

I feel that I am being shaken awake from a life long slumber now.

And truthfully, while part of me would have preferred to continue sleeping, now awakened I am not the same.

And with all likelihood, I will never really return to who I was, to who we were. More than this, even given the chance, I am not certain I would ever go back to the ‘sleepy state’ I lived in for so long.

And yet, while I feel as though I am awake, the darkness has not yet lifted. Not quite. Not fully. In many moments it seems, not at all.

For the world seems still to be ruled by forces of darkness: Greed, yes. Selfishness, to be sure. Abusive power, too much of the time. Violence and the impulse to turn to it as a solution too quickly. And fear. Always fear. To name a few.

Oh, I may be awake, but the light is still dim and I surely cannot see what’s next, what the next step will look like, what will be discovered around the next corner, certainly not what is left to learn, or how best to respond to whatever that turns out to hold.

Indeed, in Paul’s powerful urging to the Romans today, along with them all you and I are left with is this:

The obligation to love above all else.

And the invitation to live in the light, even to be protected by the light, the very armor of light which is ours  to ‘put on’ in Christ Jesus.

And so it is in these next days I am going to do my best to put on the armor of light which is being handed to me, to us.

As I put together the final details of what I hope is a carefully distanced outdoor wedding on Saturday. Putting on the armor of light…

As I sit with a family and sketch out future funeral plans and as I tend the grief of another family, living in a time of personal loss in a time like no other. Putting on the armor of light…

As I share in a ZOOM conversation with a bunch of 3rd graders, talking together about Holy Communion and wondering at what it will be to celebrate their first with them outdoors, in a parking lot, in  a few short weeks… Putting on the armor of light.

As I put my head together with leaders over an ongoing challenge, as we make plans for what it looks like to pass on the faith to middle school-ers — again remotely, as I feel my excitement building for another ecumenical online book group looking more deeply at the history of race in this country. Yes, putting on the armor of light.

As I watch the Covid-19 numbers edging up in my community, our county and as I listen closely to what is happening at our local university. As I grieve the rising death toll. Every day putting on the armor of light…

As I feel my heart breaking to watch the news and see the political divide and watch it play out on the streets of our cities and towns, large and small. Putting on the armor of light again and again and again.

It is all the same as it ever was in late August/early September and it is all different.

For these past months have awakened something in me and in you, I know.

And I am more deeply aware than ever before of the need for this ‘armor of light’ which Paul promises is ours already.

  • Light which brings clarity and understanding, yes.
  • Light without which there is no life.
  • Light without which there is no love.

I, for one, am counting on this. That while while our eyes are perhaps only now opening in whole new ways and while the light may yet well be dim, as we all ‘put on this armor of light’ the darkness may seem as day itself, in an image borrowed from Psalm 139:

“If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”

Even the darkness is not dark to you;

The night is as bright as the day,

For darkness is as light to you.”

(Psalm 139:11-12)

And that in that new light, we might somehow recognize once more that our only obligation is to love:

In the wedding prepping and the funeral planning. In the teaching and in the preaching. In the connecting with learners of all ages remotely and with struggling ones by phone or in person in their driveways and back yards. As we watch the news and pray for those who are ill and those suffering at the hands of violence and those who are perpetrating it and all those who stand helplessly by perhaps struck silent by their fear, their grief, by their histories and perhaps as yet unnamed hopes.

We put on the armor of light and seek to love one another.

One moment at a time, perhaps.

Just one small moment at a time.

  • Even though Paul expected the fulfillment of these promises to come in his lifetime, even though it has been hundreds of years since these words were first written, is it possible even now that ‘the night is far gone, the day is near?’  What makes you answer as you do?
  • How have you also found yourself ‘awakened’ in these last days, weeks, months?
  • Where might you find yourself ‘putting on the armor of light’ in the days to come? What difference might it make for you? How might that ‘armor’ offer not only protection, but also understanding and the promise of life or love or all three?
  • How do you hear this truth that our ‘only obligation is love one another?’


  1. karen ullrich says:

    Dear Janet, thank you, now in the train to Cologne, my aunt ,93, the my dear mom, 94, now gently reluctantly in a home, helpless and so kind , acceptance is her light, yesterday’s sermon, also Psalm 139, God saying, I see and know something you do not know, yet…. Live and stay close to the light as long as you have it, my burden is light! Janet I love your commitment to keep dancing with the word, with us, be blessed, greetings from hamburg, karen

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