“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 40: 1
I was weaned on the aphorism, “The task of the church is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Mostly, it seemed, we deemed ourselves the comfortable in need of affliction. I did my share of afflicting over the years. Nor did I spare myself.
And should we pay attention to the daily news and the world around us, as indeed we ought, there’s an avalanche of affliction to be found: war and refugees, devastating wildfires, fear-mongering politics.
As life went on, I concluded we are mostly both. We are the comfortable and in need of affliction, and we are also the afflicted and in need of comfort. At least at times, comfort is the needed thing.
A further realization: to know our need of comfort and to accept comfort requires humility.
Being in a sanctuary made holy by generations of prayer, our own mumbled prayers and those of others, ancient words of Scripture, someone daring to speak a word of God, sacrament of bread and wine, blessing — these bring needed comfort. For living in these times, the comfort of a great God is required.
There’s more: when we look inside the word “comfort,” we find not one word, but two, the Latin words for “with” and “strength.”
The experience of God, of God’s comfort, does not leave us limp and laid back as if we had been too long steeped in a hot tub. God’s comfort strengthens. God’s comfort strengthens and allows us to return to our lives, to the world, with fresh courage.
May the comfort of God, the “strength with,” of God be with you this day.
Grant me the humility to accept your comfort, O great God. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day. You can read Tony’s “Weekly Meditation” and “What’s Tony Thinking?” at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.