Coronavirus: Words from NTSWest President, Dr. John A. D’Elia

April 6, 2020
Dear Friends of NTSW,
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ, as we begin this strangest of Holy Weeks.
Yesterday was Palm Sunday, a day when we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem near the end of his earthly ministry. The people of the city shouted “Hosanna, Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, which connected Jesus to the hope of all Jewish people for a Messiah.
But it was a day with an undercurrent of sadness. Many of the people who cheered Jesus as he rode into the city would be calling for his death by the end of the week.
And so here we are on Monday. These early days of Holy Week are the calm before the storm and grief of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, and they give us some moments to think about where we are.
Our lives are very different to what we thought they would be this week, right? We’re settling into this life of isolation and separation, even when we were made for community and contact.
This gives us some time to make the most of these final days of Lent. This season is made for us-it’s a time of reflection and repentance that prepares our hearts for the joy of Easter. It’s a way for us to sit in the quiet and focus on our lives and what Christ has done for us. We need Lent, even if this annual journey has fallen out of fashion.
But the present crisis offers us more time than usual to do the work of journeying through Holy Week. We have these days to examine our own lives, to look unflinchingly at the places where we have tried to shape God around us instead of the other way around. We have these precious few days to reflect on just how loving and gracious and sacrificial Jesus was and is on our behalf. This week is a gift.
In our isolation we are not alone. We are living these days with an awareness of Jesus that our regular busyness rarely allows. Let me invite you today, as we look ahead to the steps that lead both to the cross and the empty tomb-let me invite you to take some time and reflect on a few verses from the Gospel of John. Just after his entry into Jerusalem, maybe even the next day, Jesus began to teach how his life and death would bring life to the world. He also tried to reframe for us what our lives can really mean. There’s no right or wrong answer here, just an invitation to read these verses and pray for God to show you something in them
John 12:23-26
23 Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
May God bless you this week with an awareness of your own life and need, and also a reminder of what Christ has done (and is doing) for you.
In Christ,
John (jdelia@ntswest.org)

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March 31, 2020

A Word from John D’Elia,
President and Professor of Christian History and Culture
New Theological Seminary of the West

Dear Friends of NTSW,

Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ, as we begin another month in captivity.

OK, so maybe that’s overstating things, but it feels like a form of prison, especially for the extroverts out there (and right here). It’s a good thing we’re all doing—staying at home, keeping our distance, doing our best to keep each other healthy—it’s a good thing, but it’s not easy.

As the novelty wears off and we’re faced with at least another month of the status quo, it’s natural for us to have questions. No need to dilute this part—here’s our real question:

Where the heck is God in all of this?

Right? I find myself praying for those close to me, for the church and seminary I serve, for friends and strangers and the whole world. At some moment in all of those prayers I say out loud to God: “Where are you? What are you doing? Why aren’t you stopping this?”

It turns out I’m in good company. In the Bible we find most of our worship language in the Psalms. It’s in this book right in the middle of our Bibles where we find “make a joyful noise” and “clap your hands all you people” and “this is the day that the LORD has made.”

But it’s also the place where we learn something about what it means to lament.

We don’t talk about lamenting nearly enough, except maybe when we’re complaining about someone else’s tendency to complain (read that again). Lamenting has become synonymous with our daily rhythm of whining about how things didn’t go our way, but in our faith tradition it means so much more than that.

N.T. Wright is one of the best Christian thinkers out there. If you haven’t read anything by him, look him up. He publishes academic books as N.T. Wright, and more accessible things as Tom Wright.

In a recent edition of Time magazine, he offers this thought:

“Rationalists (including Christian rationalists) want explanations; Romantics (including Christian romantics) want to be given a sigh of relief. But perhaps what we need more than either is to recover the biblical tradition of lament. Lament is what happens when people ask, “Why?” and don’t get an answer.”

All of us are asking “why?” and not getting much in the way of answers. I want to encourage you today that it’s OK that we don’t have all the answers—if you knew exactly why people were dying, would it make you feel any better? No—our questions are deeper than that.

Where is God?
How will God sustain us in our fear and illness?
Can we trust God to redeem this time of suffering?

Those questions put us in the long tradition of people who love and trust the God of the Bible, even when we can explain why things happen—even when we don’t have all the answers. Don’t believe me? Read Psalms 13, 22, 88 and 89.

Just as a side note, did you know that there are more Psalms of Lament in the Bible than any other kind? That means that more often than not, when God’s people sat down to write their worship language, what came out was a lament.

I don’t know about you, but I find that comforting today. How about you?

My advice today, even though it may sound strange, is to allow yourself some room to lament. Allow yourself the “why?” questions, even without expecting some tidy answer right away.

When we do that—when we lament the way people of faith have done for thousands of years—when we cry out and ask our questions to the God who made us, who loves us, who died for us, and who promises us a future, we live into our faith as disciples of Jesus.

I know this is hard—if lamenting were easy, they would have called it something different. None of this is easy, and none of this is meant to gloss over the pain we’re seeing and the fear we feel. But…it’s a good reminder that we love and serve a God who is sovereign and whose grace can be trusted from generation to generation.

God isn’t afraid of our questions, so go ahead and let them fly. It’s not a burden or an annoyance to God. It’s a declaration of trust.

Blessings to you as you all continue to shelter in your homes. Know that you’re in our prayers.

John (jdelia@ntswest.org)

(A word about Giving: Our financial commitment to the seminary doesn’t stop during times of crisis. We are still paying our staff and our bills, and we have multiple ways for you to keep up your regular gifts of support. You can use the Donate option on the seminary website, or mail your gifts to the seminary office at 626 Foothill Blvd., La Canada CA 91011. Thank you for your faithful support!)
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Past Posts:

A Response to the Coronavirus from March  27, 2020