Already in the UK 1228 people have died with confirmed corona virus and worldwide the figure is well over 30,000.
In the middle of this plague, where do we turn but to God?
When we first realised what Italy was going through, seeing the lorry loads of coffins, the doctors in apocalyptic suits, I’m sure we all had some moments of fear. I woke one morning early and lay staring at the moonlit night above my head (a skylight – I wasn’t sleeping in a ditch) and the reality hit me. Individually we are helpless. Entirely vulnerable. For all our technology and human ingenuity, all we can do to protect those we love is keep away from them. What a paradox.
In the middle of this plague, where do we turn but to the Word?
I had a friend, now dead, who underlined just about everything in her Bible! To me all those marks became meaningless and if she asked me to read it to her I’d find myself enunciating everything too carefully with undue emphasis, like a child in an elocution class. Or an aspiring actor at an Eisteddfod. Far too much emphasis liberally splashed around. I don’t make a lot of marks and underlinings in my Bible but there are a couple of pages that stick out like a sore thumb. This is a note I made two years ago, on Matthew 6. The whole chapter has been turned into a mess of exclamations and colours and scrawl and there’s even this, a tiny note stuck to the margin. It’s the only sellotaped note I have in the whole Bible and it makes me pause…..
We’re half way through a sermon series on The Lord’s Prayer just now, so I read this chapter every day, and of course each day I come across the underlinings, the notes, the questions that we were asked in that sermon two years ago:
6:19 “..store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” Where is my treasure right now?
6:22″..if your eyes are healthy your whole body will be full of light” Am I looking with God’s vision right now?
6: 24 “No one can serve two masters.” Am I serving God or self right now?
Here’s my answer for today, day 5 of lockdown (or is it 6? or 4?); my answer may change tomorrow (my middle name is Fickle), but today, in the middle of the pandemic, today my treasure is God’s love, today my treasure is prayer, and a sermon given online, an email from a friend arranging a Skype call, a silliness sent from America, today my treasure is God and fellowship. As for vision, today when I look at the people queuing in Tesco, and when I see our exhausted Prime Minister and the NHS front line workers, my eyes see the love that God has for them, and His pity. Today when I ask God what I should do to serve Him in this strange unknown time, I remember to wait for the answer, because no one else has answers for any of this, and I am thrown onto His mercy. Good job too. That’s where I belong. Sometimes it takes something drastic to put me there.
In the middle of this plague, where do we turn but to surrender?
I know there’s a real danger that this will sound like Pollyanna, or even worse Patience Strong (someone shoot me) but I believe that this pandemic is a huge bold slash of a marker in our lives, pulling us up, demanding reflection. Maybe it’s a gift. Yep. I really said that. In this hard time we can re-evaluate our lives and attitudes, to rediscover what we may have forgotten… that we are helpless and dependant, vulnerable and fleeting.
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Matthew 6:27
I’m reading the second book of Samuel now, and I’m still a bit dazed by all the battles and routs and slayings. It’s easy to forget that for every man or woman or child killed in these pages, there was grief and loss. It’s not just a story, it’s a history and we owe it more than a dum-tee-dee sing-song read-along, these are real people who lived and loved, sinned and suffered. Did God love them any less than He loves me or you? No. No.
When we read, in 1 Samuel, of a hundred Philistines being killed we should pause and think about that – real flesh ripped apart, real blood spilt, women weeping, fathers distraught. What effect did their own brutality have on David and the Israelites? When we read in Samuel 2 that Saul and Jonathan are dead, we need to remember that David was a man of passion and pride and action. A man of ego. And yet, lost in grief, exhausted by battle, bloodied by slaughter, damaged by his own terrible sin, he ‘comes to his senses’ and humbles himself before God, in Psalm 51. Did the savagery of those battles, the enmity of an old friend, and the death of a dear friend, influence David’s state of mind when he committed adultery and then murder? Maybe. But he doesn’t offer any excuses. He doesn’t rail against the life he lives and the hardships he endured. He has no sense of entitlement, doesn’t demand a comfortable life and peace. Even when he was pursued by Saul, hiding out, hunted and in terrible danger, with just a handful of supporters, he prayed
I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me:
let us exalt his name together. Psalm 34:1-3
Maybe we have become too entitled, too comfortable to remember who we are, and who God is. Maybe that’s what we should be thinking about right now. What shall we do with all this time and no work to do? “Glorify the Lord with me: let us exalt his name together.“
When the virus has passed on, and we all come together again, I think that there may be a new awareness of God and a new humility as we come before Him.
Wouldn’t it be terrible if we came out of all this without anything changing in our lives? If we spend the months whiling away the time, doing crosswords, walking the lanes, hollow headed and empty hearted, without any desire to change and grow? If we learnt nothing at all? In just a few weeks we already see some unexpected results of this pandemic; the hole in the ozone layer is closing up, the water at Venice is clearing, fish are swimming where they haven’t been for years, air purity is increasing. But what a waste it would be if arrogant mankind came through this plague without finding a deeper understanding of God and life, a deeper trust and a richer faith, sacrificial repentance and a newly invigorated life of prayer and praise.
That’s my prayer for today; that we will all come out of this knowing God better, clinging tighter, loving Him more deeply, so that even this pandemic will glorify Him.
Oh, OK, Mr Spock… don’t look at me like that. I know. Terrible syntax. But it’s tea-time. Tell Captain Kirk to wash his hands and come to the table.
Cabin fever? Me?