As one who is a lover of history and holds a history degree, I have always been fascinated by the transfer of power on inauguration day and to listen to the president’s vision and call to the nation. And while the 2021 inauguration will go down in the history books with lots to say about it being overshadowed by the pandemic, a former president choosing not to attend, and the thousands of National Guard who were called up because of the attack on the capital, for me it became hearing the powerful poem, “The Hill We Climb,” written and read by Amanda Gorman.
This young woman stole the spotlight with words that sounded more like a sermon than a poem. Her words brought conviction, inspiration and hope that is so desperately needed at such a time. Yet, the lines that resonated deeply for me is when she said, “we did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, but with it found power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves. So, while once we asked how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe? Now we assert how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?”
One of the most beloved hymns of the church, “The Old Rugged Cross,” begins with describing another hill on another day that was filled with catastrophe. For there on a cross on the hill of calvary was Jesus, who just days before was being cheered and celebrated as the hope for the future. Now they stared at what was a bloody mess with mutilated flesh and a swollen face that was hardly recognizable. It was a terrifying hour and terrifying days to follow, for how could Jesus followers ever prevail over such a catastrophe? Yet three days later with Jesus standing in an upper room saying, “do not be afraid” and weeks later pouring out the Holy Spirit on them at Pentecost, they had to assert how could catastrophe prevail over them.
Together we have endured so much in the last 12 months and hearing of more deaths to come and variants of this virus and the challenges we face as a church make us understand Amanda Gorman’s words of “we did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour.” Yet as unprepared or unequipped as we may perceive ourselves to be, we are anything but defeated. We are the heirs of the body of Christ, the church, and the heirs to the message of hope and salvation it brings. Sure, we will have tough days, tough decisions to make, but the hill we climb, we climb with the power of the Holy Spirit who has and can change the course and direction of our history. How dare we think catastrophe can prevail over us when just a little more than a month ago we declared that “God is with us” as we sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
So, I challenge us to get on our knees and pray for the Church, to renew our vows to uphold the church by our prayers, presence (yes online) gifts, service, and witness. I challenge us to look ourselves in the mirror and ask what is my role as an heir in this hour? I challenge us to be willing to make changes in our worship, to go out into the community like Wesley did, which started this whole movement we call Methodism in the first place. I challenge us to stop saying, “if only we had…” and making excuses, when we do have the power in the risen Christ to author a new chapter. Maybe another way of interpreting Amanda’s words of “how could catastrophe possible prevail over us” is to say, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Oh, the hill we climb is tough, but it is worth the effort to point others to an empty cross and declare that catastrophe cannot prevail, for our Savior lives for all.