At the end of our Maundy Thursday service at St. Stephen’s last night, the choir sang And No Bird Sang to help us make the transition from our Maundy Thursday remembrance of the Last Supper to the events of Good Friday. Douglas Wagner’s words begin with this: “Calm was the wind and dark was the sky, when our Lord came to die; Lone on the cross for our sins he did hang, and no bird sang.”
These words resonated strongly for me last night. The Gospels describe the darkness at noon, the way all of creation responded to Jesus' death; the spiritual and the physical are not separated.
One of my joys this time of year is hearing the birds sing when I wake up in the morning or when I’m outside gardening or sitting on my porch. When I read and think and pray about habitat destruction, pollution, and the effects of global warming on existing ecosystems, I often think about the birds and the joy and comfort their songs and company bring to people. What would our world be like if no bird sang? Even if we grieved nothing else we stand to lose as a result of environmental degradation, the thought of a world with few or no birds brings considerable grief.
Last year Good Friday fell on Earth Day. Last year’s Good Friday post suggested that grief – our Good Friday grief as Christians and our grief for the ways we have harmed the earth – connected the two, and that the Solemn Collects of our Good Friday liturgy can help us through this grief. When we pray the Solemn Collects, rather than staying stuck under the dead weight of grief, we open our hearts to the concerns of the Church and the world.
This past year has seen more extreme weather events, more floods, droughts, storms, and fires, a continuing rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide and thinning of the Arctic Ice. The environmental pressures on human beings and the other things that live on the earth are great. Through it all, we find our ability to cope with our grief and find hope as we did last year:
It can be difficult to know where to begin doing something with our grief for the earth. With no significant national or international effort to address climate change or prevent future oil spills or stop covering the planet with plastic, we know our efforts are valiant but probably not enough. Yet just as our hearts are touched by Good Friday, our hearts are broken open by this grief, too. Prayers for the earth and her people are a good place to begin. We might pray for the Church and all people, praying that we continue to find meaning and hope in our lives even as the chances of sustaining life as we have known it on our planet get increasingly smaller. We might pray for open eyes, ears, minds, and hearts, for the ability to understand what we are facing and the will to do something about it.
The third of the Solemn Collects asks for the cry of those in misery and need to come to God; it also prays for God to “give us…the strength to serve them for the sake of him who suffered for us.” Gathering our strength and doing whatever we can to prevent and alleviate the human misery that results from environmental degradation is the only choice we have as followers of Christ…Making the choice to acknowledge the problems we face and work to address them with so little evidence that we can succeed is where we draw on our faith and our hope; making the choice is where we get out from under our grief and, drawing on our faith for strength, gather energy for the work ahead.