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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, May 3, 2019              

Today’s Scripture Reading | Jonah 2:1–9

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; how shall I look again upon your holy temple?’ The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God. As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” (NRSV)

I have long been a fan of the story of Jonah with all the twists and turns of its plot and splendid, symbolic details. Today’s verses are a psalm-like prayer uttered by Jonah from the belly of a large fish. What led him to this unlikely place?

Jonah had been called by God to go and preach a word of judgment to the great, evil city of Nineveh. But Jonah would have none of this daunting assignment, seeking to flee across the Mediterranean as far as he could get from God. However, a powerful storm came upon the ship (presumed to be God’s doing), leading Jonah to tell the sailors to throw him overboard in hopes of placating the source of the storm. As he sank in the sea and was on the verge of death, a large fish swallowed up Jonah.

It is then that we hear Jonah recount his deep distress, thanksgiving, and renewed commitment. He had faced life-threatening adversity as he sought to escape God’s challenging call. Only to be swallowed up by grace.

In the midst of our own life-changing moments of adversity, when have we been swallowed up by God’s grace? Eleven years ago, I suffered a minor stroke, impairing both my mobility and my speech. I found myself submerged in shadows, wondering what life in the future would hold, questioning whether my call to ministry was over.

Yet I was surrounded by a loving family and by the compassionate, creative care of physical and speech therapists. Whether challenging me to coordinate the simultaneous use of my arms and legs as I stared out at Lake Michigan, readying me for sailing that upcoming summer, or arranging for me to preach a sermon straight through in an auditorium to a congregation of one—my therapist—I was truly swallowed up by God’s grace, and at the end of two months, I found myself spewed out, like Jonah, on the land of new beginnings.

Thank you, God, that you are present with us in the deep adversities of this life. We are grateful for the abundance of your grace which swallows us up and then spews us out in moments of new beginnings. Amen.

Written by Jeffrey Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

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