SENIORS, ELDERS, AND GRANDPARENTS DAY
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Makeba Lindsay D’Abreu, Guest Lectionary Commentator
National Director, Domestic HIV Programs for The Balm in Gilead, Richmond, VA
Lection - Zechariah 8:3-6 (New Revised Standard Version)
(v. 3) Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of
Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the
Lord of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. (v. 4) Thus says the Lord of
hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each
with staff in hand because of their great age. (v. 5) And the streets of the
city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. (v. 6) Thus says
the Lord of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this
people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the Lord of
I. Description of the Liturgical Moment
Grandparents Day was founded by Marian McQuade in West Virginia to
champion the cause of lonely elderly in nursing homes, and persuade
grandchildren to tap the wisdom and heritage of their grandparents.1
The idea was spurred by the “Past 80 Parties” Mrs. McQuade organized. As part
of the planning, she visited nursing homes and was moved by the residents’
loneliness. Inspired, she organized day visits called Grandparents Day
to honor grandparents wherever they lived; and to give grandparents the
opportunity to show love for, identify strengths of, share with, and guide one
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the first Sunday after Labor Day as National
Grandparents Day. The proclamation declared grandparents as “our
continuing tie to the near-past, to events and beliefs and experiences that so
strongly affect our lives and the world around us. Whether they are our own or
surrogate grandparents who fill some of the gaps in our mobile society, our
senior generation also provides our society a link to our national heritage and
Mrs. McQuade was the grandmother of forty-three grandchildren and fifteen
great-grandchildren. From 1970 until her death on September 26, 2008, she
tirelessly advocated for senior citizen rights and to make every day Grandparents
Incorporating a celebration of Grandparents, Seniors and Elders into liturgical
life allows God’s people to celebrate the theology of legacy, the willing
bequest of a predecessor’s most prized spiritual, historical, emotional,
material, and physical divinely-bestowed possessions to a willing successor for
the purposes of increasing God’s impact in the life of the predecessor and
successor, and in the world.3
II. Biblical Interpretation for Preaching and Worship: Zechariah 8:3-6
Part One: The Contemporary Contexts of the Interpreter
Grandparenthood is one on the greatest joys of life. Grandparents can freely
express unconditional love and care for their grandchildren without the
tensions, nervousness, and stresses of being a parent. For grandchildren,
grandparents are a symbol of freedom, unreserved love, legacy, and hope.
Likewise, those who are not biological grandparents, but who through their
love, patience, wisdom and concern have shepherded so many, have also created
Although my maternal grandparents died before I was born, two of my maternal
great-grandparents lived until my teen years. Their impact on me was larger
than life. They shared a rich legacy filled with spirituality, stories,
self-respect, weird foods, and fried hair. I loved them. Then there was the
cuddly bear, my paternal granddaddy. I have wonderful memories of him; memories
of love, hope, and security. Memories similar to those my son is creating with
his grandparents and great-grandparents. As an adult, I gained my husband’s
grandparents, who brought a new wonder into my life.
I was unaware of National Grandparents Day until my son was born eight years
ago. The day allowed me to formally honor the rich ministry of grandparenthood,
celebrate the theology of legacy across five living generations, and to witness
the bond of the “grandparents club.” It also allowed me to honor those seniors
and elders who were not related to me but have been a major presence in my
A healthy relationship among grandparents and grandchildren and among elders and
youth and young adults defy and breathe hope on the problems that plague our
society: the roaring rates of HIV/AIDS among youth and seniors, homelessness,
abuse among our most vulnerable populations, economic decline, and education
and health disparities.
However, one cannot overlook the sadness among our elders because of elder
abuse, drug addiction, death, and estrangement. Seniors, Elders and
Grandparents Day affords the Church the opportunity to raise awareness and
impact the social issues that affect our sages.
Part Two: Biblical Commentary
The text is part of a compilation of sermons and visions under the name of
Zechariah, a postexilic priest and prophet5 and contemporary of
Haggai and Ezra. He was most likely the son of Berechiah and grandson of Iddo,
a priest named among the returning exiles in Nehemiah 12:4.6
Scholars have identified two distinctive parts of Zechariah, chapters 1-8 and
9-14 written in different time periods and by different authors, with most
agreeing to Zechariah as author of the first section. The first part of the
book is estimated to have been written during the reign of Darius, king of
Persia possibly from 520 to 518 BCE. King Darius, like the two Persian kings
before him, practiced religious tolerance and repatriated the exiles to Judah.
Zechariah’s audience is an impoverished and dispirited community.7 There
has been much upheaval up to this point, empires have risen and fallen, and
oppressors have merely changed names. Efforts by the exiles to rebuild
Jerusalem have waxed and waned, mostly due to the exclusion of people of the
land in the community organizing and rebuilding efforts.
Chapters 7-8 compose the final messages, framing a series of eight visions in
part one of the book. The people inquired of their obligation to fast four
times a year since the fall of Jerusalem. To which Zechariah responds, the true
obligation is authentic divine worship. He understands their underlying fear of
another misstep. However, the message is clear, like the meaning of Zechariah’s
name, “YHWH remembers” and will keep the promises to the people of YHWH. He
reminds them that the historical events leading up to and the return from the
exile are part of YHWH’s sovereign purpose. YHWH will faithfully deliver the
LORD’s people from exile, and restore Jerusalem and the people’s relationship
with their God. In an exercise in visualization, Zechariah poetically lays out
In verse 3, the verb form of “to return” promises the LORD’s expediency and
magnificence. According to the book of Ezekiel, YHWH had abandoned Jerusalem.
However, YHWH’s return to the site of the tabernacle with the LORD’s people is
a glorious return.8 It is as if God promises them, “I will quickly
reestablish my presence in my earthly home.9 I will tabernacle in
the heart of Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be renamed by me, in a glorious renaming
ceremony, the faithful city. A city that is stable and dependable. And I the
LORD, the Commander-in-Chief, will have the exclusive rights of my mountain, of
my people. The city will experience my impact and it will be a sustainable city
that is able to be holy, set apart for my purposes.”
The overall health and stability of any society is measured by many social
indicators. Today, we use statistics such as the infant mortality rate, urban
population size, food production per capita, labor force rates (employment,
income disparities, etc.), school enrollment, number of cases of particular
diseases, teen suicide or pregnancy rates, crime rates, poverty rates, health
care costs, and voter turnout numbers to provide information on social
conditions over time. In vv 4-5, the LORD keeps it real simple. No statistician
or sociologists are needed. The LORD has Zechariah take a snapshot of the age
groups. How are the elderly faring? Are the children developing across gender
and age groups?
Under the LORD’S new national strategy, Jerusalem is restored. The presence of
young and old reflects a full repopulation of the city. In this city, seniors
and children, men and women, are equal citizens. The elderly advance in years.
They do not have to fear crime and elder abuse, and can again sit in public, at
the city gate in open spaces. They are not trapped in their homes or
institutions. The open areas near the gate reflect forward thinking city
planning. The municipalities have planned for youth and elderly to have
The city has a quality health care system, one without disparities. The adults
live quite long, and male and female children live beyond childbirth and
infancy. Teen suicide is low because the children advance to older adulthood.
There is food for the masses for no one is languishing in the streets or in
their homes. In my sanctified imagination, young adults to middle age adults
are not loitering the streets, because they are working, earning living wages
and equal pay for equal work. The economy is stable so the elderly are relieved
of labor,10 usually necessary in an agrarian society. National
security is working effectively, and the country is at peace because there are
children and elderly in the streets not armed soldiers. In this portrait, there
is no generation gap. The very old and the young share the city without fear of
This vision may seem far-fetched to the survivors who witnessed and experienced
the impact of the devastation, who know how governmental systems operate, felt
hunger, endured inadequate health care and education, and doggedly labored.
However, YHWH injects hope to the dejected. YHWH’s presence promises a
positive, definitive, and swift impact on the city. YHWH puts the rhetorical
questions to the remnant, literally the “rest of the people,” to provoke a new
vision of Jerusalem in their eyes, and revive hope in the gaze of those who are
Prayer: YHWH dwells in the midst of our homes, cities, towns, and countries. For
we know that when you dwell in the midst, we will share our most prized
possessions with each other to increase your impact in the world. We see hope
in our cities. We celebrate the love and legacy of seniors, elders and
grandparents today. Amen.
Imagine a world that is safe for all people; a world in which our most
vulnerable populations experience the fullness of security. Dream of a country
restored of its hope amongst its diverse citizens. Imagine a country stimulated
by healthy relationships among our most seasoned and earliest learners.
Visualize a city indwelt by the presence of YHWH. YHWH dwelling in a city has
the power to fill the streets with the laughter of the very young and very old.
YHWH tabernacling in any city will scale the generation gap in each family.
The descriptive details of this passage include:
Sounds: The soft crescendo of the rumbling of thunder over the
mountain as YHWH returns to dwell in Jerusalem (v. 3); banter of old friends,
shuffling of feet and the soft thud of a walking stick (v. 4); children’s
laughter echoing along the walls; the constant thud of a bouncing ball, girls
and boys unreservedly laughing as they perform skits before the elders (v. 5);
Sights: Billowing clouds almost as thick as a fog settling on
the city as YHWH dwells (v. 3); the hush of the crowd as they stand in
amazement as they see what YHWH sees (v. 6); and
Smells: The odor of musk from a full day of play in the
sunshine (v. 5).
1. “National Grandparents Day.” National Grandparents Day Council.
Online location: http://www.grandparents-day.com/
accessed 3 October 2008
2. President Jimmy Carter. “National Grandparents Day Proclamation.”
3. Refer to Genesis 48 and Heb. 11:21; John 20:19-23, and 2 Kings 2:1-18
4. “Zechariah.” Encyclopedia Judaica. 2nd Ed. Vol. 21: WEL-ZY. USA:
Thomas Dale and Jerusalem: Ketez Publishing House, LTD, 2007. p. 484.
5. “The Book of Zechariah.” The Speaker’s Bible: the Minor Prophets. Ed.
Edward Hastings and James Hastings. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1962.
6. Carson, D. A “Zechariah.” New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition.
Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994. p. 863.
7. Interpretersdictionary.org accessed 15 October 2008
8. Smith, Ralph, Ed. “Zechariah.” Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 32:
Micah – Malachi. Waco, TX: Word Book, 1984. p. 232.
9. Refer to Psalm 132:13-14.
10. Myers, Carol L. and Eric M. Myers. “Haggai, Zechariah 1-8: A New
Translation with Introduction and Commentary.” The Anchor Bible. Garden
City, NY: Doubleday, 1987. p. 415.
There are numerous intergenerational activities to engage the congregation
in anticipation for Seniors, Elders and Grandparents Day:
Highlight and provide workshops on issues facing grandparents: rearing
grandchildren, drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, understanding health
care benefits, elder abuse, estrangement, long distance grand parenting, etc.;
Have children and youth send hand-written letters to their grandparents and
Incorporate activities for Seniors, Elders and Grandparents Day into Christian
Conduct “Forget-Me-Not Visitations” (visit nursing homes), and develop an
ongoing visitation program;
Have members of the youth and children ministries distribute flowers to elderly
members who are home-bound;
Create and distribute a booklet of poetry that contains intergenerational
Have grandparents and surrogate grandparents create a scrapbook or storybook of
their childhood for their grandchildren;
Identify milestones among members of your congregations: most number of
grandchildren, length of legacy (grand, great-grand, great-great, etc.) and
display the legacy on-screen during a service or on posters throughout the
Create and distribute grandparent pins or pins to all elders in your church;
Create a video log with expressions of gratitude, poetry, from parents to their
grandparents and or their surrogate grandparents;
Include skits about grandparents and surrogate grandparents in puppet, dance or
drama ministries; and
Get digital picture frames for grandparents whose grandchildren live long
distances away so that they can digitally “visit” their grandchildren.
Resources for additional information
The Foundation for Grandparenting. Online location:
Grandparents Magazine. Online location:
Your local Department of Aging
AARP formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons
Ruiz, Dorothy S. Amazing Grace: African American Grandmothers As
Caregivers and Conveyers of Traditional Values. Westport, CT: Praeger,
Gellman, Marc, and Harry Bliss. And God Cried, Too: A Kid's Book of
Healing and Hope. New York, NY: HarperTrophy, 2002.
Uslander, Arlene, and Freddie Levin. That's What Grandparents Are For.
Columbus, NC: Peel Productions, 2002.
Mead, Lucy. Grandparents Are Special: A Tribute to Those Who Love, Nurture &
Inspire. New York, NY: Gramercy Books, 2000.
Fays, Edward, and Jo Anne Metsch. The Grandparents' Treasure Chest: A
Journal of Memories to Share with Your Grandchildren. New York, NY:
Warner Books, 2002.
Canfield, Jack, and Mark Victor Hansen. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and
Great: Grandparents and Grandchildren Share Their Stories of Love and
Wisdom. Deerfield Beach, FL: Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishers,
Stories about Elders and Grandparents
Woodson, Jacqueline, and Floyd Cooper. Sweet, Sweet Memory. New York,
NY: Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, 2000.
Dilz, Ric. My Grandma Could Do Anything! Boulder, CO: Rein Designs,
Holman, Sandy Lynne, and Lela Kometiani. Grandpa, Is Everything Black
Bad? Davis, CA: Culture Coop, 1995.
Hamm, Diane Johnston. Daughter of Suqua. Morton Grove, IL: A. Whitman,
Pak, Soyung, and Susan Kathleen Hartung. Dear Juno. New York, NY:
Christensen, Bonnie. In My Grandmother's House: Award-Winning Authors
Tell Stories About Their Grandmothers. New York, NY: HarperCollins
Children's Books, 2003.
Williams, Vera B. "More More More" Said the Baby: 3 Love Stories. New
York, NY: Greenwillow Books, 1990. A darling child of African heritage is
adored as his white Grandma's "Little Pumpkin." Also features single-race
families. Inclusive in tone and content for ages 2-up.
Billingsley, Franny. Well Wished. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for
Young Readers, 1997.
Strete, Craig. The World in Grandfather's Hands. New York, NY: Clarion