Sunday, November 14, 2021
By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation
One year at Easter my father was given the job of saying the blessing before brunch. As I am sure many of you have experienced firsthand … by brunch on Easter there can be a couple of things happening.
Parents of young children are particularly tired because their children are either a. in a jelly bean induced hysteria or b. have already experienced the sugar crash and things are off the rails.
Grandparents can be simultaneously filled up by the presence of their children and grandchildren while also being extraordinarily annoyed by the mayhem.
The brunch host is exhausted and usually worried about a dish or two that did not come out as planned.
You know. Everybody is in a great mood by brunch on Easter.
My dad started in on the prayer as we were gathered around ham and biscuits and cheese grits. I knew things were going to go long when Daddy started all the way back at Creation, like it was the Easter Vigil. By the time he got to the morning of the resurrection, he started with the line “And thank God for the women”
To which my Aunt Elsie loudly replied. AMEN. And blessedly, there ended the blessing.
Thank God for the women. Amen.
In the last few weeks, the Old Testament readings have offered us glimpses of some powerful women. Esther and Ruth have both been in our lectionary readings and David and Harrison both have preached about them. And yes, dad was right. Thank God for Esther and Ruth and those women at the tomb and for the all the brave women of the Scriptures.
Today we hear the story of Hannah and maybe her story is familiar to you and maybe not.
The book of Samuel opens with the story of his mother Hannah and father Elkanah. And Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah. Hannah had no children and Peninnah had a pack of them. This is a familiar situation from Old Testament stories. A woman without a child, particularly without a son, pitted against another fertile woman.
Peninnah is plain mean. She taunts Hannah; she “provokes her sorely” about her lack of children. And Elkanah, although clearly being kind and tender toward Hannah, asks her why he isn’t enough for her to be happy. The taunts and traumas seem to be worse each time the go up to the shrine at Shiloh to make their annual sacrifice.
I find Hannah’s response to this situation interesting. She doesn’t go to Elkanah and complain about his tone deafness to her want, or about Peninnah and her spiteful heart. She doesn’t plot against Peninnah either. Nothing moves Hannah from staying the course. Hannah hauls herself to temple and prays. And cries and prays some more.
Hannah prays in a way many of us do when there is something we want very much. If you will just do this God, I will (fill in the blank). Hannah makes a promise that if God will just give her a son, she will “give him to the Lord all the days of his life.” She will return him to the Temple for him to serve the Lord.
While Hannah is praying, Eli, the priest of the Temple sees her. He sees her mouth moving in prayer. I’m sure he saw the tears and her wiping her drippy face and waving her arms pleading with God to hear her. And Eli’s oh so kind interpretation is that Hannah is out of her mind drunk. Nice Eli.
But, Hannah doesn’t give him a piece of her mind for being so ungracious and judgmental. She explains herself. And thankfully Eli sends her off not with a dismissive rebuke, but with a blessing. And Hannah dusts herself off and heads out of the Temple and carries on. The text says that “her countenance was no longer sad” maybe because she had been heard.
And indeed in due time Hannah has a son who she called Samuel. The text tells us that his name means “I asked the Lord for him”. The word “ask” in Hebrew also means “borrowed”. Hannah asked for, sought to borrow a son from God. And God delivered.
When it is time to return to Shiloh to make sacrifices the following year and Hannah has baby Samuel in her arms she stays back. “As soon as he is weaned, I will bring him” she says. Elkanah wisely tells her she knows what is best.
Hannah does not break her promise to God. She does bring Samuel back to Shiloh while he is still very young. She brings him to Eli and says “I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I have prayed; and the Lord has granted me my petition which I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” I asked God for this, I sought this child to borrow from God and God was faithful to me. I am offering this child back in faithfulness, I lend him back to you Lord.
Asked. Borrowed. Lent. I marvel at the sight of Hannah standing there in front of Eli with a child probably still small enough to perch on her hip. Keeping her promise. Giving him to Eli to raise at Shiloh, giving him to grow up not in her house, in her arms, but there with Eli, serving the Lord.
The first time I watched my son run toward the ocean as a toddler my heart stopped. I looked out the danger of the water and my small son barreling toward it instinctively. In my panic, it hit me that I was living on borrowed time with him. He was not mine. I had asked for him, prayed for him. But he did not and does not belong to me. He belongs to the one who made him. And when I think of Hannah, there handing over young Samuel, smelling his sweet little boy head, I want to throw my arms around her.
After Samuel is borrowed back to Eli, the text tells us they worship.
And what they pray is the Song of Hannah, the song we just heard, which is remarkably like the song of another mother, the Song of Mary, the Magnificat.
The Song of Hannah is a song that possibly comes from another time inserted here for emphasis. But that doesn’t change the message.
My heart exults in the Lord.
Keep your proud words to yourself because the Lord knows more than you can even imagine.
The weapons of those who seek power will be broken.
Those who are cast aside will be lifted up.
The Lord brings death. The Lord brings life.
He takes us down to the grave and raises us up.
He will guard the feet of the faithful. The wicked will not prevail because of their attempts at might.
The Lord will raise up his anointed.
This is a song of the last being brought to the front of the line, of injustices in this life being righted. Sung by someone who knows clearly that every good gift comes from the might of the Lord, not by the might of humans. A song sung by one who has felt the nearness of God’s grace. Hannah knows what the nearness of God’s grace can do, what it can change.
God’s might, God’s faithful love for this gangly lot of us, has the power to upend this world. God’s love has the power to throw down great buildings, to throw down all that we humans create in our greed, our ignorance, in our unwillingness to recognize that things we ask for from God are also borrowed from God. That is what Jesus reminds us of this in today’s Gospel. Maybe the birthpangs Jesus speaks of is the pain caused when God’s love reveals how poorly we have used what God has lent to us and the reckoning that realization brings.
Hannah felt this grace, this might, this faithful love upend her world as she held Samuel. And Hannah praised and gloried in this grace as her world was upended again as she borrowed Samuel back to God, knowing, trusting in God’s goodness.
The text does not tell us much about Hannah as Samuel grows into a great leader of Israel and takes his place in the story of God’s redemptive love. It does tell us that every year she visited him, bringing him a new robe. And that she was blessed with more children after lending Samuel back to God. But that is about it.
I wonder about the blessings in my life that I am willing to lend back to God. What am I willing to upend or except being torn down, knowing that every grace I have is borrowed from God? What is God upending in this world? What is God asking us to lend back so that we may be a part of the work of the Kingdom?
I wonder if I could ever be as strong as Hannah.
Thank God for Hannah. Thank God for the women. Amen.