Reflections during Lockdown No 5;
When I wrote the third of my “Reflections from Lockdown” the picture of the Valley of the Shadow of Death that came into my mind was of a mountain path, with steep, rock faces on either side and another rockface in front hiding the way forward. We are a little further along that path now. We have passed through that particular valley and there is a view ahead. But now, as with all hills or mountain ranges, we can see just how many more ups and downs there are. It is going to be a long hard slog to get out of this. It would be all too easy to lose heart as we look at this new landscape.
Now that we have passed the pandemic’s peak coming down this particular mountain is indeed looking more perilous than going up. Despite that, the words that God says to us are “Take heart”. Jesus said “Take heart” when he walked across the waters to his disciples in a sinking boat. “It is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6,50). He said “Take heart” to his disciples after the last supper. (John 16, 33). Joshua, as he took up leadership of the people of Israel heard God say “Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1, 9).
We can indeed take heart because God has promised to be with us throughout our lives and that includes all the difficult and challenging times. Jesus is with us just as he was with the disciples on Galilee. Jesus said “Take heart” to them when he knew that their lives would never be the same again. He knew they would have to create a new life and a new way of living after his death. The path we are walking now and the new ways we are having to learn are difficult but not impossible. And so as we step carefully and gradually out of lockdown we need to learn different ways of relating to each other and different ways of doing things. How will we know what is the best thing to do in changed circumstances? How are we to keep our distance in different situations? How can we make ourselves understood wearing face coverings? How will those who are deaf cope without seeing our lips? The questions are endless and the answers few. The words of this blessing remain valid for us today as we emerge into this unfamiliar territory. It is based on the end of 1 Thessalonians and was written for Christians who were experiencing all kinds of difficulties including persecution.
Go forth into the world in peace.
Be of good courage.
Hold fast to that which is good.
Render unto no-one evil for evil.
Strengthen the fainthearted,
support the weak,
help the afflicted,
love and serve the Lord
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And the blessing of almighty God,
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
be among you and remain with you always. (CF 1Thess 5.)
St. Paul is reminding the Thessalonians what it means to walk in Christ’s way. Times of stress or uncertainty really test us. When under pressure, it is hard to respond to unkindness or harsh words with kindness and patience. It is hard to maintain courage when we are full of uncertainty and fear. And it is hard to rejoice whilst we are grieving for so much and so many. Nevertheless, we are still called to rejoice that through Christ’s death and resurrection we receive God’s love, mercy and faithfulness and the support of the Holy Spirit. Take heart.
You have called us, O God, to be your people.
You have loved us and chosen us for your own.
Clothe us with your compassion, your kindness,
your humility, your gentleness and your patience.
Help us to forgive one another as you have forgiven us.
And bind us all together in the perfect unity of your love. Amen
(adapted from Colossians 3, 12-14)