Rev Angleena Keizer, United Methodist Church of Great Britain
1 Samuel 1 v 4-20. Mark 13 v 1-8
Last week was the hundredth year anniversary of the end of World War 1, we commemo-rated Remembrance Sunday as we stood in silence for two minutes in respect for all those who lost their lives in past and recent wars. Remembering those who laid down their lives and hoped for a better tomorrow. As we ‘remembered them’ last week, todays theme is ‘remember me’.
These are the words uttered by Hannah in the Old Testament Reading. Hannah was a women who suffered greatly due to being barren. Perhaps because Hannah was unable to conceive, her husband Elkanah had a second wife, Peninnah, who bore him sons and daughters. The fact that Elkanah was able to have children with his second wife was a constant painful reminder to Hannah that the inability to conceive lay with her. In the cul-ture of that time and today this was devastating. She lived with a sense of failure and stigma. She was a women whose daily reality was overshadowed by shame, desperation, anguish, grief, often downhearted and weeping. At that time the custom of the family was to go yearly to the place of worship at Shiloh, (located not to far from Jerusalem today) and offer their sacrifices. This was a particularly painful time for Hannah as each would be given their portion of the sacrifice, she would be provoked, and taunted by Peninnah. It was a time her husband would give her a double portion as his way of showing that he loved her very much in spite of her problem. However he misunderstood Hannah’s dis-tress by asking her “why are you weeping”? “Why don’t you eat”? “Why are you down-hearted”? “Don’t I mean more to you than 10 sons”? Hannah was overcome with despair and unable to eat, the situation affected her physically and mentally.
And so Hannah’s reaction in bitterness of soul was to pray, in her prayer she says “O Lord Almighty if you would only look upon your servants misery and remember me” she makes a vow that if the Lord gave her a son, she would give him to the Lord. She is observed during this time by Eli the priest who misunderstands her outward behaviour and accuses her of being drunk. Hannah’s response is, “I am a women deeply troubled, I’m not wicked, I’ve been praying out of great anguish and grief”. The priests response was “go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant what you asked of him”
Now here’s an interesting thing in our reading. Hannah had waited a long time, her life has been greatly affected by her situation, but she leaves that encounter with the priest a changed women. Her countenance changes, she’s no longer downcast and she is able to eat. Transformation has taken place in Hannah. When she returned home, the Lord re-membered her and she conceived and gave birth to Samuel. I want to suggest, hope was born in Hannah’s heart, before conception in her womb. Hannah was a women who kept her vow to God and as promised, gave over the long awaited child after he was weaned, into the service of the Lord. I sometimes wonder at Hannah’s willingness to let go of the child she had waited so long for.
The Old Testament and New Testament readings this morning are very different and I’m not trying to link the two together. However, there are some similarities. Jesus and his disciples had also been in a place of worship. He too was being observed by the religious leaders. He was challenged and questioned by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and a teacher. He too was misunderstood. His disciple marveled at the massive stones of the Temple and buildings, asking Jesus “do you see all these great buildings”. Jesus replied “not one stone will be left on another, every one will be thrown down”. It’s whilst he is sat at the Mount of Olives, with the panoramic view of the Temple that he begins what is described as the Olivet discourse. Jesus described what was to come, he warned his disciples about being deceived by those claiming to be him, there will be wars and rumours of war, nations rising against nations, earth quakes and famines. He explains to the disciples that these things will happen before the end comes, and not to be alarmed at all they hear and see. These things he said, are the beginning of birth-pains.
As we look back at one hundred years since World war 1, we can testify throughout histo-ry until the present day that all Jesus taught his disciples has happened and are happen-ing. Wars and strife continue, some have come claiming to be the Christ, famine and earthquakes are a reality. Even as we commemorated Remembrance Sunday there were attacks from both sides of the Gaza fence, with rumours of war! Throughout the rest of chapter 13 Jesus warned his disciples of what was to come. He promised that the Son of Man will return coming in the clouds with great power and glory. A time will come when Jesus will return. He warned his disciples to remember his words and teachings, we don’t know when this will happen. No one knows the day or hour, not even the angels or the Son. He instructed them to watch and wait and be on their guard.
Hannah didn’t know the day and hour she would deliver, and had to wait until the birth pains began. Even when the contractions begin, the experience of labour is different for every women, some can deliver quickly, others can be in labour for days, whilst others need assistance to deliver. The birth pains can be for some very painful and difficult, whilst for others quick and easy, the result however is the same, a child is delivered.
Jesus likens his return to birth pains, we don’t know how long or short the birth pains will be, but we have been told and thus know he is coming!
What does that mean for us today? Some of us may have come this morning to worship experiencing some of what we heard regarding Hannah’s situation. We may be experi-encing anguish, grief, be downhearted, weeping, being provoked or misunderstood. Hannah couldn’t change her situation but she knew how to pray, asking God to ‘remember me’. For some this morning we may feel God has forgotten us! we can’t even think or take on board Christ teaching of one day he is coming back! We need him today!
Hannah named her son Samuel which means “heard of God”. I want to encourage us to-day to watch and wait for Christ today, and every day, until he comes again in glory. One day Christ will come again in all his power and glory, but in the meantime he has not for-saken us or forgotten us. He is with us in our situations and circumstances and a very present help in times of trouble. May we be encouraged and transformed by Gods grace which is sufficient for this day as we cry our ‘remember me‘. May we know his embrace and love, may hope arise in our hearts. May the joy of the Lord be our strength as we watch and wait. Amen