24th May 2020

There has been much in the news over the past few weeks about moving forward after lockdown.  People are crying out for an idea of when things are going to get back to normal - when they can start going out again, seeing loved ones, friends, and getting back to work.  Governments are trying to suggest a way forward, but no one can be sure what lies ahead, other than that we shall not going back to life as we knew it any time soon, if at all.  People of all faith groups are faced with the same dilemma.  What lies ahead for us?  What shape shall our future worship and fellowship take if we cannot go back to what was?

I have been thinking a lot about this over the past few weeks and keep coming to the same conclusion.  Things cannot, and possibly should not, go back to the way they were.  What was, was good for some.  It was safe and comfortable.  It was steady and consistent in a world around us that was anything but.  It was a place we could retreat to for comfort and consolation, for guidance and encouragement.  It was the place we called our spiritual home.  However, in truth, this was not the case for a lot of people – people who felt they had a faith but found the expression of it in our churches (well, many of them at least) difficult, if not impossible to relate to.

What the spread of the Corona Virus has done is force us out of our comfort zones to experience God anew.  I do not believe for one minute that God caused this to happen, but I do believe that he is using it to show us another way to live and worship – a way that is open to anyone and everyone.  Where we may have only considered different resources in the past, especially the increasingly wide choice of technology, we are now using every channel available to us to reach not only our members, but to anyone who wants to learn and share in our story of faith as we continue to live and grow together, albeit apart.

It has struck me over these past few months that we have much in common with the people of Israel when they were led out of the familiar into the unknown by Moses.  Life in Egypt had been horrendous for the Israelites.  Under the rule of Pharaoh they had been subjected to intolerable cruelty and suffering.  To cut a long story short, God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt with the promise of reaching the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey, free from the hardship bestowed upon them by Pharaoh.

I am not for one minute suggesting that we were living in a state of persecution and suffering, but life as it was allowed us to take our faith and the freedom to express it for granted.  Many of us had got stuck in the ways of the past, ways which have undoubtedly served us well, but as membership across the land steadily decreases, ways which no longer speak to our world as it once did.  Add to this the responsibilities we have to maintain huge buildings and the financial expectations this has laid upon us, little energy is left for doing what we are all called to do first and foremost – witness to the love of Christ for all people.

Perhaps God is offering us this time to review and reassess our priorities in the Church.  We are clearly being led to a new land, metaphorically speaking.  We may be like the Israelites and cry out for clarity.  We may long to go back to what we knew, even though it may not have been good for us in the long run.  We may yearn for the comfort of the past, but the future God has planned for us will be better. 

I was reading an article the other day which referred to the current experience of lockdown due to Covid-19 as being akin to a blizzard.  Actually, what the writers were suggesting is that as time under lockdown is extended, we may better consider this as blizzard within a period of winter which, if predictions about the presence of the virus and vaccine availability are true, should be regarded as the start of an ice age that could last up to 18 months, maybe longer. 

I don’t know what I think about this, but it certainly made me pause for thought.  All I do know is that for the foreseeable future, the way we worship and express our faith is going to be different, be it within or out with our buildings.  And to be honest, it is not all that bad.  I would suggest that in fact, in these strange times, our faith and fellowship is growing stronger by the day.  We are rising to the challenges set before us and giving it our best shot.  We may not always get it right, but we are trying, and that is what really matters at the end of the day.

What this time is teaching me is that the material things we once depended on and thought we could never manage without are not as essential as I once believed them to be.  To be a people of faith, all we need is the knowledge that God is with us, and the ability to trust that he will lead us through to a place better than we can ever imagine.  We know this, because he stayed with the Israelites of old, and in the years that followed, he continued to challenge and lead his people through Jesus and the disciples. 

The worst thing that can happen for us in faith is to stand still.  It may be comforting for us and it’s okay to rest there a while.  But it can never be our final resting place, for God has other plans for us.  In his letter to the exiles, the Lord spoke through Jeremiah saying, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you…and will bring you back from captivity.  I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you…and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jer. 29:11-14)

We may feel like we are in a kind of exile from one another and the church at the moment, but this shall pass.  In the meantime, let us pray that we learn what God is teaching us quickly and surely.

Prayer

Lord, many of us may feel estranged at this time, unable to be together in fellowship, unable to worship the way we always have.  Yet we are able to give thanks for your continued presence with us, assuring us that we are not alone, that you are with us, leading us onwards, encouraging us to believe in the plans you have for us.  Forgive us for those moments when we doubt your presence, and indeed, your goodness.  In our sorrow we reach out to you and pray for your mercy.  And so we thank you that in Jesus we can know your everlasting forgiveness and love.  In the days and weeks that lie ahead, help us to see the world through your eyes.  Give strength and courage to care workers in every sphere, for all who work to keep us safe, not forgetting those who work to keep us supplied with all we need and more.  May we never take them for granted, nor the service they provide.  Be with each one of us as we face the challenges of a new week, that we may step forward boldly, sure in the knowledge that you are with us and will guide us through.  All this we pray in the name of Jesus, AMEN.

Please click on the link below to listen to “God of Goodness” by Bethel Music.

God of Goodness