14th June 2020

Reading – John 12:12-15

Earlier this week I listened to a series of reflections on “Theology in a time of Covid” offered by Trinity College, University of Glasgow.  It was an interesting presentation which certainly gave me plenty to think about, some of which I would like to share with you today.  There was a lot in the presentation, so today I intend to focus on only a few insights, particularly those presented by Professor John Swinton of Aberdeen University.

The first thing he said which leapt out at me was that we need to recognise that “the new norm’ is not [going to be] the old norm’ with a different hat on.”  This is something I have myself been reflecting on, and something I feel we all need to start realising, painful though it may be.  Whatever the future holds, things will never be the same as they were before Covid 19, and this goes for how we do church too.

This may be difficult for us to contemplate, but it is true none the less.  At some point, we will be able to return to worshipping within our buildings, but not without significant changes in how we do things, not least, where we sit and how we share fellowship.  The need for physical distancing is but one aspect to be considered, never mind all the other requirements that are likely to be laid down.  

We need to say goodbye to many of the ways of old and it is right that we acknowledge our pain and mourn the loss.  It has been a significant part of who we are and what we have been known for.  But it is not the end of church - far from it.  In fact, it could be argued that we have been offered a new beginning, blessed even, with an opportunity to be church and be the church we have only dared dream of until now.

Professor Swinton encouraged us to start looking forward to what could be and offered a number of images or metaphors as to how we might look forward.  The first thing we probably need to do is recognise that the old, whilst not a bad way of being church, wasn’t always working as best as it could.  As it is in most things, we did the best we could, but always hoping for better days.  Professor Swinton suggested that we might look at the current changes as being akin to moving from Palm Sunday through to Resurrection.

Bear with me a moment whist I unpack this a little.  Hark back to Palm Sunday if you will.  Remember how the people joyfully welcomed Jesus to the city of Jerusalem.  Remember how the people “took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the King of Israel!’ (John 12:13).  Then remember what happened next – the pain of those last days, the fear, the suffering of Jesus, and the darkness of his humiliating death on that cross at Calvary.

Up to that point, the followers of Jesus had a very particular vision of what the future would be like, but that vision ended when Jesus was put to death.  It is not difficult to imagine the  pain of dreams shattered and hopes lost, because this may be very similar indeed to how we might be feeling today about the future of the Church.  Our hopes are all too easily diminished in the chaos of the pain this crisis brings.  We can, however, still find hope.  We can draw hope from the journey Jesus’ followers made from that joyous Palm Sunday, through the pain of the crucifixion, right through to the hope of the resurrection.  

The future the people longed for came to fruition, but it was so very different from that which they had imagined.  So it is for us.  I believe we are in a time of transition from something we were comfortable and familiar with to something completely unknown and more than a little scary.  But if the hope we have in Jesus is anything to go by, then we have reason to look forward in joyful anticipation.  The road ahead will not be easy, but then the journey of faith never has been simple or straightforward.  We are moving into to something hitherto unknown, but we go with God by our side, his Spirit nudging us forward, encouraging us to trust that God is able to make all things new.  

Let us then pray for the courage to let God do his work, that through these currently painful and fearful times, we may remember whose we are and whom we serve, and so move forward together united in faith.  Amen

Loving God, who loves us without restriction or bias, we thank you for the life and witness of Jesus, your Son, whom even in death, brought healing and hope by his resurrection.  As his followers experienced such mixed emotions about their future, so at times do we, particularly in these days where everything about how we do church is so different.  Help us to recognise the new things you are doing and to be encouraged and inspired by it.  Because of Jesus, we have hope.  So let us draw strength from that hope and learn to look forward with excitement to all you have planned for us.

In these difficult days, we cannot remain blind to the terror and violence being perpetrated and experienced by so many around the world.  In all things we pray for your peace, that all people, irrespective of race, gender, sexuality or creed may recognise each is made in your image and as such are to be loved and respected equally.  Bring an end to prejudice and hate and replace it with love and respect for human dignity.

God of hope, we give thanks for that hope which dwells in our hearts.  Use it and us always for the furtherance of your kingdom of love and eternal joy.  Amen

Please click on the link below to listen to the song “Christ our hope in life and death” by Keith & Kirstyn Getty with Matt Pana.

Christ our hope in life and death