February 18, 2019
Rev. Nina Barlow Schmid is the pastor of the First Congregational Church of South Windsor.
Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
Have you ever wept for everything and nothing? From sheer delight and overwhelming despair? In woundedness and gratitude all at once? For whatever “ails” you, as my mother used to say? Have your sickened sobs ripped your heart apart and put it back together again, the revelation of the glory of God working in your life and the world, unveiled?
Joseph is depicted as weeping with just such profundity in these verses from Genesis. He is reunited with his brothers after a series of chaotic life-events that would cause anyone to question, and yes, affirm, God’s presence in their lives.
Joseph’s journey from favored son to hated brother sold into slavery, then his explicable rise as Pharaoh’s “second-in-command” is epic. He is seen as “one in whom is the spirit of God.” Joseph is appointed head of provisioning – the most powerful one could become in an agrarian society. From powerless to powerful, we find Joseph weeping upon his brother Benjamin’s neck. Then, he kisses and weeps “upon” all his brothers..."and after that his brothers talked with him."
Riveting human grief and love combine with life’s vagaries of familial destiny, choice and providence in this climax. The sheer magnitude of emotion captured is “head-exploding,” to co-opt a friend’s favorite saying.
Imagine Joseph ‘falling upon’ Benjamin, crushing him in a brotherly bear hug, then snuggling his head where it fits perfectly in that little hammock of humility and hope on Benjamin’s shoulder: hot tears streaming, collars damp, noses running; tough yet tender, the yin and yang of relationship redeemed.
We cannot know Joseph’s true feelings in what seems like the cleansing cry of the ages. Perhaps the desire to forgive wrestles with the desire to display his power, rendering him all too human unto himself once again. Perhaps Joseph weeps over the losses in his life that no words can express? Or, the pain of the world? Falling upon his brother, helpless and hysterical, he finds a soft cradle of humanity in the crook of Benjamin’s neck upon which to rest - a tearful baptism of reunion and refuge.
Weeping on someone’s neck is an act of vulnerability and strength. Joseph lets those who hurt him back in, showing his true mettle. Swallowing his pride, Joseph sets aside his woundedness and “preserves life.” He invites his family to settle where he knows there will be food for them to survive. Like a true shepherd-king, Joseph feeds the sheep, even the lost ones who have hurt him so deeply.
Joseph’s tears flow in rivulets of forgiveness. His brothers’ flow in repentance. Joseph leads them to higher ground, just as God brought him to higher ground, despite the egregious things perpetrated against him and…“and after that his brothers talked with him.” What could have ended badly, ends well; a turning towards God and each other instead of away fosters the gift of understanding rather than dissension.
Surely, we are in need of such divine revelation this day. Thousands suffer under the oppression of the government shutdown as I write this. Thousands more suffer separation from their families, just like Joseph. World-wide suffering abounds.
Would that the leaders of this nation bend their stiff necks and turn towards, rather than away from, the oppressed and each other! Would that we all could be so vulnerable we could fall upon each other and weep upon each other’s necks, crying for the very misery of humanity which cannot get out of its own way to “heal the sin-sick soul.” Joseph demonstrates that which we so desperately need as a people, a nation, and a world!
I don’t know about you, but right about now I could use a good cry myself. Somehow, I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. After that, may we all talk, truly talk, with each other.
Prayer of Lament
God of Tears and Healing,
Let us learn from Joseph’s example. Let us cry it out on each other’s necks, not give each other the silent treatment or engage in endless hate talk. Let our leaders lead, not falter under the weight of their woundedness and unshed tears. Release them from the bondage of hypocrisy and self-importance, that they may listen to the cries of those who are falling upon their necks and weeping, that we all may talk with each other again. Lord have mercy. Amen.
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Liberty Christian Center International UCC
Warburton Community Congregational Church UCC
Harwinton Congregational Church UCC
Gilead Congregational Church UCC
Higganum Congregational Church
This Week in History:
Feb. 18, 1885, (134 year ago) Mark Twain publishes the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a story of Huck and his friend Jim, a black man who escapes slavery and tries to reach Ohio and freedom. The story, considered by some to be a masterpiece of literature, has sparked controversy regarding its portrayal of black characters. Others see it as a criticism of racism and slavery. A 1998 lawsuit against an Arizona school district was brought by a parent who felt the required reading exacerbated existing racial tension.
Starting With Scripture: February 18, 2019 , by Nina Barlow Schmid.