We find ourselves in a novel situation, one without parallel… uncharted waters. As you will know, all public worship has been suspended - even outdoor worship - until further notice. In fact, all physical gatherings (e.g. Lent groups) have been suspended, with arrangements being made to find ways of being together ‘virtually’. This means, however, that our Weekly News Sheet (known ‘affectionately’ as WNS - pronounced WiNS) has a lot of empty space that would normally be filled with details of the coming weeks’ events. It has been decided that we will replace those notices with some simple thoughts about the lectionary readings for each Sunday; not a sermon, I hasten to add; just some thoughts. The readings for last Sunday—the 4thSunday in Lent—offered us a variety of avenues to head down; but I chose to take my lead from the reading from Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus. Put very simply it tells those in Ephesus that they are to be ‘different’… they are to live as children of light, not children of darkness: “…the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.” Eph 5:9.
The same is demanded of us, here and now; and it is, I think, particularly poignant when you think of what we have seen lately in our shops and supermarkets: panic buying… first of hand sanitizer and toilets rolls… then things like UHT milk, tinned foods, pasta and rice and now, just about everything! Mahatma Gandhi said, “The world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed.” We are seeing the truth of that statement everyday in the media: shots of rows of completely barren shelves. Many of us will have seen and heard the cries of critical NHS staff coming exhausted off long shifts and finding empty shelves, and it is heart-breaking. I know that it is difficult but… the challenge, firstly for us as Christians and, more broadly, for everyone, is to try to live as children of light… not allowing ourselves to get caught up in the potentially destructive spirals of panic.
The even greater challenge, not just for this faith community but for all faith communities, is to demonstrate that we are truly a Church for all… not just an irrelevant Church, seen as being only for ourselves. The challenge is to become a radically different kind of Church—one rooted in prayer and practical service to the wider community… to be truly children of light.
I am known, I suspect, for repeatedly suggesting that Lent is a time when the pace of things, the rhythm of being, should change… well, they do say that one should be careful what one wishes for! This is, without doubt, a Lent where a change of pace is occurring of necessity.
As Archbishop Justin has said, “Being a part of the Church of England is going to look very different in the coming days and weeks, with our faith lives characterised less by attendance at a church building on a Sunday and more by our prayer and day-to-day practical service to others.” And it is becoming evermore apparent that one of the greatest practical services that we can render at the moment, is to stay away from others as much as possible. I know that this feels like such a counter-cultural request… but it’s necessary – not just for the sake of our own health, but as a measure designed to reduce as greatly as possible the spread of the virus.
So, in being a serving church, I urge us all to take note of the directives coming from the government. Let’s do the right things in this crisis… showing love through restraint, but with caring… for all.
“God of healing and hope, in Jesus you meet us in our places of pain and fear. Look with mercy on those who have contracted the new virus, on any who are vulnerable, and on all who feel in danger. Through this time of global concern, by your Holy Spirit bring out the best not the worst in us. Make us more aware of our interdependence on each other, and of the strength that comes from being one body in you. Through Christ our wounded healer. Amen.”