I write this hoping that it finds you in good health.
When we entered 2020 it was inconceivable that we should find ourselves in a lockdown. Stories of a virus in Wuhan had made the newspapers, but I don't think we imagined it having such an effect on our lives many thousands of miles away. We have now been in lockdown for over two months and coming out of it is likely to take some time. We are, indeed, living through the greatest global public health crisis of our lives.
I am sure that it effects us all in varying ways. On the positive side, it has brought out real moments of togetherness and some wonderful examples of creativity and humour. However, it has also brought us moments of anxiety and a feeling of being cut off from the company of others whom we value and need. This is especially true for those who live on their own.
I really want to say to those of you who are struggling that it is ok to be finding this experience hard. If you feel lonely, angry, anxious or even somewhat depressed, it is no judgement on you. Your feelings are perfectly natural in this once in a lifetime experience. I tell you that my own feelings are increasingly resembling a yo-yo with moments of feeling good interspersed with moments of feeling gloomy. It is absolutely natural that at times we should feel the pain of this situation. Do not beat yourselves up over the moments when you are overcome with negativity. Do not apologise for your humanity. Hold on to it with defiance, even shouting at God, for God has been shouted at by multitudes down through the ages and is perfectly able to take all that we throw in His direction.
Today I want to tell you that when you feel lonely God is your companion. When you feel unloved as a result of not having a warm touch for several weeks, God still loves you and feels your pain. When you feel despair, God gives you reason to hope. When you feel down on the ground, God lifts you up. Truly, the God who is the reason for your very existence and who loves you as if you were the only one to love, is not going turn away from you or withdraw the love that lifts you up. This is a time to hold on to God even if it is by your finger tips. We will come through this time and we will have a song in our hearts once more.
I do not know when we shall return to our churches, but I do know that we will return when we can make it safe. Your wellbeing is at the heart of how the Methodist Church and, more locally, our circuit will make decisions. For a time we are effectively in exile but I promise you that church will go on, albeit in different ways than we are used to. I shall continue to produce (with help- offers of participation are always welcome) a Sunday service as well as daily reflections. I hope to start an online Bible Study soon too. All these things can be developed and refined. We are together finding our way through previously unchartered waters.
I give thanks for the ways in which you are looking after each other. I have heard so much about how people from my local churches have supported each other. You have embodied church in the ways that you have cared for each other. It has been truly inspiring. I have seen what it means to be a community of the people of God.
As the death tolls seem to be coming down, I encourage you to keep your guard up; the danger is by no means gone. There may well be future spikes, so stay safe! Together we can go on to rebuild as we emerge from this experience. Most of all, be kind to each other and to youselves. You deserve that!
Like the rest of you, I struggle with the knowledge that the whole coronavirus lockdown situation is outside of my control.
So how do we look ahead? In my scripture reading I have found myself pausing at the response of Jesus when asked which commandment
is first of all:
Hear O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this; You shall love your neighbour as yourself . There is no other commandment greater than these.
(Mark 12: 28 -
I think this answer reminds us of the importance of love at all times, but especially in difficult times such as this. For just a moment
I want to encourage you by exploring the three 'loves' we find in this scripture.
Firstly, we turn to the love we have of God. God is the very author of life; the One who is just as loving and faithful to us in our times
of failing as in our times of success. Our relationship with God is very important at these times. I was brought up to believe that the cross we wear or display must always be empty as as a sign of resurrection, yet I have come to appreciate the crucifix in which
Jesus is on the cross. To me it symbolises that Jesus is our brother in suffering. I am also reminded of a saying by the inspirational Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, in his opposition to Hitler, suffered imprisonment and execution. He wrote the powerful line:
Only a suffering God can help.
Even if you feel that God is remote at this moment in time, I encourage you to hold on to the suffering God.
Secondly, we look to the love we bear for others. To those of us who are tactile, it is really hard at this time that we are unable hug or make contact with others outside our household, even those who are really struggling at this time. Sometimes, however, love can take us away from our instinctive responses. Currently we are having to show our love by staying in our homes and distancing ourselves from others. We can also show love and compassion by ringing those who may be struggling
at this time and being the sounding board or encouragement that they need.
Finally, we are reminded to love ourselves as we love others. Do not give in to the lie that Christians are not to love themselves.
I encourage you to exercise self compasssion and to spend some quality time on the things that bring joy to your hearts, so long as these do not conflict with our love to others and the legal requirements put on us during this period of lockdown.
It has been quite a week with the 3 week extension of the lockdown and once more I encourage people to keep in touch with one another.
I was impressed on Thursday night when so many people across the country went to their doorsteps and applauded our dedicated health service workers; it seems to get bigger each week. These are very special moments in which the
country comes together in solidarity. We are truly in this together.
To borrow a phrase from the late Jo Cox MP we 'have more in common than that which divides us'. We are also coming to appreciate the efforts of so many people whom we have in the past taken
for granted. That legacy is one which I hope lives on beyond the virus.
Many of you will be feeling anxiety at this time: I certainly am. Do not feel guilty about this or beat yourself up over it. It is a natural feeling. After all, Jesus went through agony in the
garden of Gethsemane at the thought of what was to come. Try to think positive thoughts and do whatever helps you to relax; our mental health is very precious indeed.
Prayer becomes important even if it is not always easy. We need to travel the path ahead in a way in which we are open to God's prodding.Those making important decisions from positions of authority need
our prayers; those who work in the health service and other emergency services need our prayers; the shop workers who are constantly interacting with the public need our prayers; the sick and sad need our prayers; those struggling with isolation such as families where family
members have the likes of autism or ADHD need our prayers; those for whom domestic abuse issues seem inescapable need our prayers; and of course we need to pray for the scientists working on a vaccine. The list is endless, however, we should not forget that God can
bring hope into the most difficult of situations.
In the meantime, seek to bless one another. I commend to you the words of St Paul:
encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for
you are with me; your rod and your staff- they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell
in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
These words are familiar words from the Book of Psalms. Many can recite them and in various forms we often sing them in worship. Are not these words especially relevant for today?
Psalm 23 is a 'Psalm of Trust' and as such it is a Psalm that looks to God in times of trouble. The Psalm contains phrases such as the 'darkest valley' and a table 'in the presence of my enemies'. Clearly the Psalm was either written by or for a person going through times of trouble and yet, in the darkest of times, it points to a God in whom we can put our trust; a God who has been faithful in the past and who is not about to give
up on us, even in the most challenging of times.
Today we face real challenge in the form of a deadly virus that is sweeping the globe. There can be no doubt that the next few months are going to be
very difficult indeed. During the current lockdown we are having to live with restrictions that we could not have envisaged just a few short months ago. We have to be vigilant for the sake of our own health, as well as for those whom we love and hold dear.
At times we will be tempted to despair.In these moments we need to look to God for help, trusting in God's unwavering love to help and guide us, even through the darkest of paths.
I encourage you to hold fast to the words of Joseph Hart who in a well known hymn wrote these words that still hold meaning for these days:
Many people have said to me that Good Friday was so different this year- it certainly was! Yet this year, with its desolation, I cannot help but feel that our
emotions are not so far from those of the people closest to Jesus. Like them we feel at times that the world is caving in.
Easter gives us a powerful picture of God transforming the most desperate of situations. The wrongly executed Jesus is raised and hope abounds in our world. For
me the effect of this victory over death and despair takes me back to when I watched The Lion King. Simba's annointing transforms a grey, sterile landscape into a world that is both colourful and vibrant. During this difficult time I encourage you to
look to the God who loves us and is alongside us. As so many young people are reminding us, it is in the darkest hour that we can be surprised and given renewed hope through the rainbow.
I am aware that there is a lot of anxiety at present- I share it! This is indeed a time to hold each other up and to offer encouragement. We have to get through this together.
Each Sunday during this crisis we encourage you to bring the situation to God in prayer. Join with other Christians at 7pm by praying and perhaps even lighting a candle in the window- a sign of hope.
In the days ahead may we be grateful for those who are often sacrificially trying to help us through this situation. May we also value each other and exercise self compassion to ourselves.