Lent 2021


Lent 2021: Returning the Years the Locusts Have Taken

God SeesA Reflection for the Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent  

“So I will return to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the crawling locust, the consuming locust, the chewing locust, my great army which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; and my people shall never be put to shame. Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the Lord your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame” (Joel 2:25-27).

This past Sunday, I had the great privilege of meditating on these lines from Joel with the LGBTQ+ Ministry at STM. They number among my most cherished in the whole of the Hebrew Bible, in part because of their clear and evocative language of God’s promise of restoration. The text takes suffering seriously: restoration is offered because the devastation of lost years is so great. For us humans, in our fragile, mortal bodies, time is precious and easily lost. God sees our suffering and makes a great promise that those years of pain will be returned.

I’ve been thinking about the “years that the locust has eaten” a lot in the past few months, as the world has grappled with the tremendous loss of life to the COVID-19 virus. So many among us have encountered the devastation of the locusts in the premature loss of their own life, a prolonged illness, or in the loss of loved ones. For those of us isolated from friends and loved ones, “lost years” may take the form of time spent away from community, and loss of the nourishment that relationships provide. The immensity of the many years lost to suffering and death around us all the time can be difficult to comprehend--I find this infographic, tracing the number of years lost from the life of each person killed by gun violence in the United States--to be one of the few ways I can get my head around how many years are lost to the locusts each year. And of course gun violence offers another example of the terrible “locusts” that eat away at our lives and loved ones.

Elizabeth Bruenig, also writing on this passage from Joel, reflects on the “lost time” between a point of injury and the moment of justice or resolution, when wounded people may begin their lives again, reclaiming their years. “Sometimes,” she writes, “this point never comes. Entire lives can be lost this way.” Injustice is a locust that claims many years. It can be difficult to see how such losses could be restored, and how or if we can participate in the restoration of our neighbors.

In my own life, I’ve returned to this passage in times of hardship within the Church, as with the Vatican statement on same-sex couples issued this past week. I pray for all of the LGBTQ+ people who have lost years to the Church, either to the constraints of closeting or to the rejection of what should be a loving community. In the LGBTQ+ communities I’ve worked with, I have found the balance of mourning and joy to be immensely beautiful. We mourn the loss of queer elders to disease, rejection and death, and the loss of homes and relationships to hatred and discrimination. We celebrate the joy and wonder of embodiment and relational love. This balance--mourning and celebration, bitter and sweet--is one of the great gifts that LGBTQ+ people give to the Church. I see in this balance a sliver of the great restoration God promises to His people.

I’m not sure what the restoration of my own “lost years” would look like, and even less sure about the restoration of the many, many years lost in just these past months. The restoration is ineffable, wonderful, beyond imagination. But I think one of the things we can know is that there will be no shame in the restoration, in the Kingdom. When I read “my people will never be put to shame”, I think of the many relationships inside and outside the church that are lost to the locusts of shame. I take great comfort in knowing that the restoration will repair our communion with one another, restoring dignity to those who have once been ashamed and unity to those brought apart. If we want to live with our lives turned towards the promise of the restoration, I think we can start by examining the places in our own experience where we shame others and feel shame ourselves. We can work to eradicate these moments in preparation for this great restoration with one another.

A writer I admire recently remarked that “one of the underlying tasks of every good Lenten discipline is to hone our ability to accept our failures without surrendering to them.” It is good to observe and meditate on the places where we fail, but we lose more time by surrendering to them. If we are to work for the good, a world with less suffering and shame, then we must be aware and forgiving of our failures. As we look towards the end of the Lent to the joy of Easter, let us look forward to the restoration while holding each other close through this plague of locusts. Let our joy in the community we have with one another be unencumbered by the locusts of shame.

Clare Kemmerer GRD '22

Clare is studying Religion and the Arts at Yale Divinity School.