“For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” 2 Corinthians 5:2-4
I love the imagery in this passage from the lectionary for Morning Prayer. I resonate so deeply with the language of groaning under burden, for the aching desire to be protected and brought closer to God, yearning for intimacy and love.
In Greek, stenazó, the “groan” used in this passage, describes the groaning of grief, anger, or desire. It is feeling pressure, which can be intensely positive or despairing depending on context. That energetic, almost primal release of sound when we cannot formulate words to express what we’re feeling, whether because of strain or joy.
We’re a week into Eastertide and over a month into COVID-19 quarantine, and I find myself groaning out in a multitude of ways at the contradictions of living. Jesus is risen. Our world is in turmoil. Death has been defeated on the cross. COVID-19 death tolls rise by the day. We come together on Easter. We must celebrate alone. What does it mean to live as Easter people in a world that is so disconnected and broken?
In some ways, this is nothing new. Disabled and chronically ill folks have had to face the mental and physical of strains of socially isolating well before COVID-19. BIPOC, poor, undocumented, and other marginalized folks have faced worse health outcomes and have been contiually failed by our medical systems. Capitalism has caused wealth disparities that result in a handful of billionaires holding the majority of the wealth while the masses hunger. Our world was already broken, sinful, it’s just been amplified by this pandemic. So how do we move forward in this season?
On Easter morning, my girlfriend and I went to the north shore of the island and watched the sun rise on the banks of the river. I was immensely sad. I worry about my family, who are all living in the US. I miss my friends. I miss celebrating together with my church. But yet, we went out into nature and sat. I watched the sun come up as we heard a chorus of ducks, woodpeckers, and swallows singing. We listened to the river splash and sway. We watched as a raccoon got chased by an angry goose. And the sun rose. There was something in this quiet rhythm of natural life that proceeds forward despite everything that’s hurting in the world, that was so joyful. There was a peace there in my heart, mixed together with deep sorrow.
In a way, I think if our hearts are overwhelmed with these confusing and often conflicting emotions, that’s enough. The “stenazó” used in this passage in 2 Corinthians is also used in one of my favourite passages in Romans. “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Romans 8:26. In this passage, “sighs” translates to “stenagmos”, which comes from “stenazó.”
In the same way that we groan, yell, and ache from strain, exhaustion, joy, mourning… so does the Holy Spirit. God is there with us as we suffer, celebrate, scream, yell. These complicated feelings are not only natural, but holy. We can celebrate the resurrected Christ, we can know that He is risen, and we can mourn, we can miss, and we can cry. And God is right there with us, groaning.