29th March 2020

So how are we all this week? I don't know about you but the situation we find ourselves in all feels very surreal, as though we are taking part in one of those pandemic films. But this is not a film and it is very real. Social distancing seems like a small price to pay if it slows down the spread of this virus, but it's not without its challenges. We have good days and bad days, highs and lows. One minute we may be enjoying the free time, the next, overwhelmed by all sorts of emotions we didn't expect to experience.

Some have said that what we are experiencing is akin to grief. Perhaps it is. Perhaps we are mourning what we used to have in the knowledge that even when this is past its worst, things will never quite be the same again, and maybe they shouldn't.

Social distancing may feel isolating, but in many instances, I rather think it has brought us all closer together, much closer than we have been for a very long time. With a few exceptions, we are witnessing the better side of humanity as people come together in caring for our neighbours, looking out for those most vulnerable, and showing gratitude to those who continue to work for our sake. Social networking, despite its failings, has come into its own, allowing us to make face to face connections with one another, to share messages of hope and encouragement, lightening the mood by sharing posts that make us smile and laugh. Social distancing, bizarrely, may be bringing us an awareness of blessings we have previously taken for granted, of family, friends, health, and a multitude of forms of communication.

For those of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ, this is the season of Lent during which period we are encouraged to reflect upon the stage of our relationship with Jesus in the light of his ministry and suffering. Our fears are real, our anguish, our unknowing is real. But the God in whom we put our trust is very real and is with us in the midst of all of this, whoever we are, wherever we happen to be. He has not distanced himself from us, and never shall. Indeed, as the Psalmist has written, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?. If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Ps. 139:7-10)

Today is commonly marked as Passion Sunday, and the gospel reading this week is John 11:1-45 which concerns the death and raising of Lazarus. The possibility of premature death may be at the root of some of our fears just now. John shows us how each of us may differ in how we approach death or the death of a loved one, how we grieve in different ways. Some folk need clarity and understanding. Why has this happened? Why has God not intervened? Others need comfort and reassurance, that God understands our sorrow, that he is able to reach out to us in our pain, sharing our grief rather than offering a seemingly pious holier than thou response. When Jesus saw Mary weeping, he didn’t criticise her for a lack of faith. Instead, he was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked” (speaking of Lazarus). “Come and see, Lord, they replied. Jesus wept.” (John 11:33-36) Once again, God did not distance himself from his people in their time of suffering, and more than that, he supplied each one’s individual need, to Martha with a response to her theological questions, and to Mary with companionship and love.

God has not distanced himself from us, even now. It may seem to some that he is far off and unconcerned, but if scripture is to believed, (and I think it is), then we can be assured that God is present in ways we have yet to understand. I believe that he is present in the love and care we have for one another, in the compassion and fellowship offered to all people in it’s many and myriad forms. But I also believe that he has given us a gift, the gift of time in seclusion to consider our relationships with each other, the world, and ultimately, with him.

Experiences such as this affect not only how we view the world, but importantly, they give us time to reflect upon how our actions or inactions have affected the world and all its inhabitants in the past, and to consider what we may need to change from now on.

This has been a sobering experience for us all. Humour has its place, and I am thankful for it. But let us also use this time to seek God’s guidance, and his gift of courage and willingness to follow wherever he leads.

Loving, living God, we thank you for being present with us in every experience of life. Although there have been times when we have tried to hide from your presence, you were patient, you sought us out and when we were ready to come back, you welcomed us home with the love only you can share.
Today, we give thanks for the gift of time. In recent years, it has been as though time was our master. We were always busy, with work, with family and friends, busy with anything it seems, that would keep us from you. Today we have few excuses left, for most of us now have time in abundance. Help us to see how we may use our time more effectively as we seek to serve you, both at home and in the world.
We give thank for friends, neighbours, family and colleagues; for the people who make us laugh and bring us joy; for those who go the extra mile to help others; and above all, for those who are working tirelessly during this time of uncertainty to minister to the sick, to keep us fed and watered, to tend our weary souls and to bring us hope. We may be socially distant from one another, but in you, in Jesus, we are united in love and in hope, and for this we give you thanks. May we rest in the assurance of your presence today and every day, Amen.

For those who wish, below is a link to the song “How Deep the Father’s Love for us” by Stuart Townend:

Link to YouTube