Tuesday 23rd March was the anniversary of the first lockdown. What a year it has been! When the announcement was made last year, it triggered many different feelings in people across the country. Some were anxious, confused, and fearful. Others soon felt isolated, and some sprang into action to help their community. Whatever our response, one thing we all had in common is the sense of entering into the unknown. And I think none of us expected that here we would be 12 months later coming out of a third lockdown.
We will have all experienced the pandemic differently—in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Whatever our experience has been I think we will all benefit from taking time to reflect, to be thankful for the good we have seen come out of the pandemic as well as to mourn our losses.
We opened 2 of our churches for people to come and spend some time reflecting on the year and perhaps light a candle in memory of those who have died. We also have them the opportunity to think of something they were sad about and something they were glad about and write on post it notes to go on a display. We also had a prayer tree.
I am thankful for the dedication of the NHS workers, school staff and other front-line workers who have gone the extra mile in serving others. They have suffered great stress and strain over the last year. And we are thankful for them. Some people may be thankful that they have been able to work at home and see more of their children, whilst others will have found that a cause of great strain and stress. We will have all felt our own pinch points and strains. We will all have felt our own sorrows and losses as individuals, families, communities and as churches.
There is a great strength to be found in being thankful, counting our blessings and in acknowledging our losses, bringing our laments to God. Indeed, there is a book in the bible call Lamentations. The writer brings his complaints to God:
“Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow …. which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger. For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my courage. Remember my affliction and my bitterness”
These verses are from Lamentations and are part of Morning Prayer during this week:
1 Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? ♦
Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
2 Which was brought upon me, ♦
which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.
3 For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; ♦
for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my courage.
4 Remember my affliction and my bitterness, ♦
the wormwood and the gall!
5 But this I call to mind, ♦
and therefore I have hope:
6 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, ♦
his mercies never come to an end;
7 They are new every morning; ♦
great is your faithfulness.
8 ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ♦
‘therefore I will hope in him.’
9 The Lord is good to those who wait for him, ♦
to the soul that seeks him.
10 It is good that we should wait quietly ♦
for the salvation of the Lord.
11 For the Lord will not reject for ever; ♦
though he causes grief, he will have compassion,
12 According to the abundance of his steadfast love; ♦
for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.
Lamentations 1.12, 16a,b; 3.19, 21-26, 31-33
The author of this had seen great tragedy and loss, and was asking the same kinds of questions that we ask. However, he doesn’t simply complain and blame God, leaving it at that. He remembers God’s nature is always to have compassion and mercy:
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Like him, we too, in our own times of grief and stress, can draw strength and comfort as we turn to God, and discover that He understands our sadness and losses, our uncertainty and confusion, and is able to stand with us in the midst of it, and to meet us with His own comfort, love and guidance.
We need to move forward into the future with hope. The phrase The New Normal has become part of our vocabulary. Are we ready for it?
I am not sure we are ready. I am not, because I don’t know what the new normal will be, so how can I be ready for it?
Although I don’t feel ready, I am not without hope. We base our hope on God who is faithful, who has been with us and goes with us as we recover and rebuild our lives. The scriptures for this morning’s Morning Prayer reminded me of the importance of remembering that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who guides us (Psalm 23), and of asking the Lord to re-build us. Psalm 127 :
1 Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain.
2 Unless the Lord keeps the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.
the psalm had this refrain and prayer:
The Lord shall keep watch over your going out
and your coming in.
Lord, you are ever watchful
and bless us with your gifts;
as you provide for all our needs,
so help us to build only what pleases you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We don’t know what the ‘new normal’ will be, in society or in church communities. But we do know that we can build it together, with God’s help. And as far as the church is concerned, unless the Lord re-builds us, whatever we do will probably be in vain.
I attended a webinar on Thursday afternoon to help church leaders lead well during the pandemic, and out the other side of it. It was excellent – if you are in a leadership position then I recommend it – click CPAS.
We are facing a huge transition from a year of fear and death, lockdown and restrictions, and how we navigate the next few months is important. We can’t stop the changes in life: they will happen whether we want them to or not. However, we do have control over how we respond from how things were and move into how things will be. That process of moving from past into future is a journey in our minds, our feelings and our wills. It might be tough, but if we accept that it needs to happen, then perhaps that will make it easier.
Although I am tired, as are many people, I have confidence in God and I know that as his church, his body and his children, he will not leave us to fend for ourselves. He will guide us, inspire us and lead us into the future he has planned for us.
There are two things we can be certain of in life – no I am not referring to death and taxes – but to change and God’s love. Change is part of life. We see it all around us, we experience it from the day we are born, and we know that nothing stays the same for ever. We cannot go back to the way things were before. Some activities and events we will go back to, but they won’t be exactly the same, if for no other reason than we will have changed because of the last 12 months we have experienced. The fact that God’s love is certain helps me to be certain that if I trust in him then whatever the future holds he will be with me.
May God bless you and your family as we move forward together into the future, with God.