On my first Christmas as a priest, I drove from my parish in Greensboro to my aunt’s house in Charlotte after the Christmas Morning Mass. I arrived at the door of the house glassy-eyed, pale, and with shoulders hunched over. My grandmother took one look at me and said, “Nickname within the family which I will not share with you, Are you sick?” My mother looked from across the room and said, “No, he’s exhausted.”
We know what it is to be exhausted. We know what it is to be tired from the work of the day and of the week. We know what it is to be exhausted from caring for a sick child or a sick spouse. We know what it is to be tired from our own illnesses and struggles. We know what it is to be exhausted by the bitter, scandalous, and demoralizing speech that characterizes the political discourse around us. We know what it is to be exhausted. Perhaps, you know that right now.
But we are in good company. Moses seems to have been exhausted. He had only battled Pharaoh, led the people through the Red Sea, seen the Lord face to face, and presented the ten commandments of the law to the people. He had every right to be exhausted, but the work continued. There was another battle to fight and as long as Moses stood on the top of a hill with his hands raised up, the people of Israel were winning the battle. But when he lowered his arms in exhaustion, the other side prevailed. My mother, recognizing my exhaustion, led me to a recliner to sit down. Aaron and Hur, the companions of Moses, brought him a rock to sit on and held his arms so that they were held up in prayer for victory until sunset.
Timothy too, it seems, was exhausted. Only a few weeks ago we heard the instruction of Paul to Timothy to stir into flame the spirit that is within him by the laying on of hands. He commands Timothy to go back to that moment when he was set apart for ministry. Today Paul reminds Timothy to go back to the Scriptures, to go back to his prayers, to go back to his preaching. These were the things that would hold Timothy up. The Scriptures, the prayer of faith, and the work of Christ would help to prop him up.
Of course, not all of our company is good. The judge in the certain town who did not fear God or respect any human beings seems to have been exhausted too. The constant and persistent petition of the widow wore him down. In exhaustion and fear, he gave in to hear her case. It’s interesting that we don’t know what the case was, we do not know the verdict; we only know that the judge agreed to hear her case.
We do know, however, the case that we have heard. We have heard the witness of the law and the prophets. We have heard the testimony of Moses and Paul and Timothy. We have given our verdict, at least for today that we will come to the feast and pray. And in the midst of our exhaustion, we have come here to hold each other up. We have come here so that our lives can be raised in prayer.
Several times in the celebration of the Liturgy, I say to you, “The Lord be with you,” and you respond, “And with your spirit.” This isn’t just a regular greeting. It’s a prayer. It’s your prayer in fact, for me, to engage the Spirit that is within me by the laying on of hands. It’s your persistent petition for me to do what I was set apart to do. With every, “And with your spirit,” you are praying and saying, “Raise us up with the scriptures, raise us up with the prayers, raise us up with the preaching of Christ.” Like Aaron and Hur, your prayerful response keeps my hands raised in prayer at the Altar. And even in the midst of our exhaustion, from the battles behind us and the battles before us, together the victory is ours in Christ Jesus, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.