Heather Hansen, San Antonio, TX

Warm-up Questions

What were you doing in 2020 when you first heard you would be out of school for an extra week because of a virus making people ill all over the world?  How did you feel at that moment?  When did your feelings change about COVID-19?

Birth Pains

It’s hard not to discuss COVID-19 in just about every area of life these days.  In fact, it seems to be a new conversation starter, just like,  “How about this weather?”  Now it’s, “Have you have COVID?” or “Have you had your shots?”  “Are you getting the booster?”

When COVID first became a thing, I remember thinking, “Well here’s another thing that people are going to go crazy about…we just need to wash our hands and be careful, the way we were with swine flu.”  When school was cancelled,  my kids were super excited for the extra week of spring break.  Then, school was cancelled for another week and people all over the world began reporting alarming numbers of sick and dead.  Finally came the point at which I knew it was serious…the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was cancelled, quickly followed by Fiesta in San Antonio. The Houston Livestock show is a million, probably billion, dollar event.  So, at that point, I began to feel the birth pangs of what would be a long year and a half of labor, so to speak, that’s still not  over.  Or maybe it is, and we just don’t recognize what life looks like with something new?

The pain of childbirth is great, but it doesn’t start out that way.  For people who give birth  without being induced, the pain starts slowly with larger cramping or contractions than usual.  You ask yourself, “Was this different?” The answer is, “Oh yes.”  Though you are scared, you also rejoice because this little person inside of you, who has grown terribly uncomfortable, is finally coming out!  Then, the contractions get closer together and eventually become much more painful.  Finally, the pain becomes unlike most other pains a person experiences…unless they pass a kidney stone.  It’s agony,  yet necessary for new birth.

I wanted to have my children naturally, without any pain relievers such as an epidural.  Some women have very good reasons for choosing these aids, but they were not for me.  I took classes designed to help me work through the pain and thought I was ready.  But I wasn’t.  The pain came and lasted longer than expected.  Those assisting the birth encouraged me to ease the pain, instead of helping me work through it.  When you are in that much pain, it’s hard to stay committed to what you wanted, so I chose the spinal block.  In the end, the epidural caused many difficulties and I wished I’d chosen what I knew was best for me.  With the second child I vowed I would deliver with no epidural, even though there were many voices telling me once again, “It’s OK Heather, just get the epidural…most people do…you’ll feel so much better.”  But this time, I knew what I truly wanted.  Fortunately for me, I had a nurse with a strong steady voice who stayed with me through the pain.

As with childbirth, the pains of COVID came subtly at first.  Perhaps they were even joyful, because we had some time of rest and recreation which we don’t normally observe.  But then, the pain became worse.  Our lives started filling with disappointments, illnesses, deaths, depression, and anxiety.  We struggled with turmoil and division in our country and culture.  It was easy to listen to voices that led us astray and to think only of ourselves.  And, the pain grew stronger, the longer the pandemic lasted.

Are we finished with COVID-19 yet?  Has new birth finally come?  Or are we still working through the pain, waiting for final delivery?

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think?  Are we finished with COVID-19 yet or are we still working through the pain?
  2. What has been most painful about living in a pandemic?
  3. Do you think comparing the pain of the pandemic to childbirth is a good comparison?  Why or why not?
  4. When has pain caused you to listen to the influence of voices you would normally not listen to?

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Daniel 12:1-3

Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25

Mark 13:1-8

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

When you  research Mark 13, you find that this chapter is sometimes referred to as “a little apocalypse.”  What starts out in verse 1 as exclamations from the disciples about the greatness of the temple, quickly turns into a chapter fraught with destruction, war, and admonitions from Jesus to be prepared and ready.  Jesus declares that even this great temple will crumble completely to the ground.  In 13:8, Jesus tells the disciples that “this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

One of the questions I ask myself when I read the Bible is,“What does this passage have to say to me about what’s going on in the world right now?”  Therefore, when I read this passage in Mark a few weeks ago, especially the words Jesus speaks about birth pangs, I immediately thought of COVID-19.  

Jesus spends all of Mark 13, after the disciples exclaim how great the temple is, describing something not so great after all.  The destruction of the temple, which is often seen as a sign of  Jesus’ death, is only the birth pangs.  Jesus also warns the disciples to be ready for many voices which will lead them astray.  He describes the pain that they will encounter, perhaps trying to prepare them.  But, as I think about birth, COVID-19, and all the hard painful things that happen in life, can we ever be fully ready for how they feel?

I wish I’d had  a voice to lead me through a natural delivery the first time I gave birth to a child.  I wish we could have seen how much pain COVID would bring, and how much we needed a strong voice guiding us through the myriad of other, less helpful voices.  And, I bet  the disciples wished they could hear the guiding voice of Jesus in person when they faced great persecution and trial after Jesus ascended into heaven.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how pain and suffering will end in the same kind of joy and new birth that having a baby brings.  Even though having a baby or getting a COVID shot seem to be an end to the pain, we may find we still don’t understand and still have the pain.  When I first brought home my oldest child, I set her car seat down on the floor, looked at my husband and said, “What are we supposed to do now?” 

We may be unsure about what comes next. The good news is that Jesus prepares us if we listen.  Later in chapter 13, Jesus says listen to my voice and don’t be swayed by others.  Even when we are in great pain, the voice of Jesus is there, guiding us to new life.  So, when the birth pangs come, be ready for the pain and dig into how Jesus prepares us, but also be ready to listen and learn.  Jesus does bring new life.

Discussion Questions

  • How do you feel when you hear Jesus say that everything will be destroyed?
  • What things in your life have you felt were destroyed and brought pain?
  • What helped you get through that pain to a new life?
  • What does new life look like after something painful has happened?  Give some examples of new life born from hurt or pain.

Activity Suggestions

Watch a video of the Twin Towers in New York City collapsing.  Discuss the destruction, death and pain that came from that event.  Then discuss the following questions:

  • What new birth came out of 9/11?
  • Where do you think God was/is in that tragedy?
  • What do you think got people through the pain of 9/11 and how can that help us today?
  • What does “new life” look like to you, from a faith point of view?

Closing Prayer

Holy God, we sometimes struggle to see pain until it is upon us.  We see joy in the beginnings of birth pangs, but then realize the fullness pain once we are in the middle of it.  Guide us in these times to hear your voice and to respond to your will, even though it’s easy to go astray.  Continue to prepare us for the hard times as we read your witness in scripture and comfort us through it all.  Amen.