Exiled (Longing for Zion in a Foreign Land)

By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

- Psalm 137:1-3

It’s only been a week or two and some of us are going stir crazy. All around the globe people are isolating themselves in their homes, practicing “social distancing” from everyone, and many are quarantined either by choice, or as ordered by a doctor, due to exposure of the COVID-19 virus that has invaded the world. Businesses, schools, churches are closed and we are – for the first time in our lives, for most of us – separated from people and from doing the things we normally do. Life as we have known it has completely changed. Because of panic, we find the grocery stores, that are still opened so we can purchase what we need, are having a very hard time keeping their shelves stocked. I thought I would buy some bread flour the other day, so I can make bread in my bread machine. Smelling the aroma of bread baking is comforting and I thought it would make us feel good, eating that warm bread with melted butter. But no bread flour was to be found. In fact, there was no flour at all! Anywhere. I understand being low on hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies, but flour? And then, of course, there is the toilet paper dilemma. I saw a funny meme on Facebook that said:

Toilet paper will not get you into heaven. That’s not what it means when you sing, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.” (Posted by Tony Phillips)

I think it is a good thing to have some humor in all this. If it’s in good taste and is appropriate, it sure feels good to laugh. It’s true, what they say about laughter being good medicine.

But then we remember the thousands of people who are not able to laugh, who are fighting for their lives, as well as so many who have lost the battle and died. And then, we come back to the reality of how serious all this is. As time goes on, some of us do, or will, know personally someone with the virus; may even know someone who passed away. We worry about our loved ones and ourselves as well. We try to do what is safe but we aren’t really sure if we’re doing enough. And its hard to not be with the ones who give us comfort and support. As I write this today, my own sister desperately needs the help and support of a family member as her health is declining and her husband is now extremely ill. Neither of them has the Corona virus, but because of it, no one is there to help, to hug, to just be with them.

As I sat down to write this, not sure of what I was going to say, the word exiled came to mind, and then, when I typed that in, the verse from Psalm 137 came into my thoughts. By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept as we remembered Zion.

The Israelites were devastated. They had lost the war with Babylonia. The Holy City – Jerusalem (Zion) – and the temple lay in ruins, and here they were – captives in a foreign land. The Psalmist went on to write:

On the willows there we hung up our harps.

For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

Can you picture it in your mind? God’s chosen people captives – exiled – away from their home and their place of worship, sitting and weeping beside the rivers of Babylon. Can you see the harps and other musical instruments they managed to bring along, hanging in the Willow trees? There was no more music in them, no reason to sing, no joy, no sense of praise or hope. They were lost and they longed for their lives as they had known them. And all around, their captors were mocking, prodding them to sing the songs of praise and worship they had sung in happy days at home.

“How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” they cried.

Already we are longing to get back to our normal lives. It’s not just the waiting or the uncertainty; it’s not just the isolation and loneliness for many of us. It’s living with fear and, for some, a sense of hopelessness. But then, we see people who are singing, even in the midst of their exile. In Italy, where there are growing numbers of those sick and dying, we see communities of people, isolated in their homes yet all at their open windows singing.

Beautiful choirs of voices filling the air with beauty and joy. We see on the news and on social media how many citizens are going out of their way to extend acts of kindness and generosity even as they may be worried about their own income in this crisis. They too, are singing in a foreign land. Let us find hope and encouragement as we too, join others in love and unity.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the new Christians in Rome in a time of persecution: Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. – Romans 12:9-13

We will go home again. Life will return to normal. But we will be stronger in our faith and our character if we allow God to work in us in this time. Let us sing to the Lord songs of praise even in the land of exile. - Sharlyn

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