I had the strangest and sweetest experience today. Very unexpected. The vaccine roll-out is progressing well in the UK, so well that already there’s talk about helping out countries who haven’t got the supplies they need. But because of the lock-down and limited social chat, I don’t know anyone who’s been called for their jab yet and I’d thought maybe this little rural region was lagging behind a bit. It didn’t worry me, I knew the roll out was going to the very elderly and the care homes first, and I’m pretty robust apart from a few wonky bits so I thought that maybe in a month or so, it would be my turn. No rush. Then I had a phone call, from a very jolly woman, inviting me to get the vaccine. You know, it made me feel very … actually I don’t know how to describe it… sort of grateful and moved and humble. It was a strange prickly feeling! In a strange prickly time.
We’re struggling. We are, even those of us who are used to living alone, or who say stoutly that we’re introverts so it’s not so bad for us. It’s a year now, lives have been disrupted, loved ones have died, some homes are wrecked by grief, children are isolated, families separated, old people die alone… flip me! Where’s the good news in all this? Well, there it is. In the vaccine roll-out. Maybe that’s why I felt grateful and moved and humble. A reminder that this too will pass.
Maybe it’s also just plain good to see that the UK can get something right. And incidentally, listen, just an observation… who is in charge of this massively successful national procurement and roll-out? A WOMAN.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject; while many Christian churches won’t even allow women to be elders, the Muslim Council of Britain has appointed a new Secretary General – a woman! Weird times. Topsy turvy times.
Something’s been niggling away at me for days, that vague feeling that I’ve forgotten something. I couldn’t work out what it was. After all, in lockdown very little is happening, so surely I wouldn’t have forgotten it, if it was important? But I had the sense that it was. And then, in the car wash (of all places) as I used the five idle minutes to delete a few junk emails – there it was! An online Writer’s Evening when I’m due to read from my book for 15 minutes (which seems like an awfully long time) to be followed by some sort of interview and an open mic session…. and it’s in three days. I’m so glad I washed the car! It would have been galling to miss the one social occasion of the whole month.
My brain has shrunk in lockdown. I’m sure of it. I’m working on a TV project but the producers have had Covid so everything’s happening in slow motion accompanied by apologetic emails. Little do they know that my brain is as slow as theirs but without the Covid excuse. I have to make notes and leave them prominently displayed so I don’t miss them “Tax due 31st” and “Nancy’s birthday!!!!” and coded scribbled ones that it takes a while to understand “Book poo bags.” But rather wonderfully it’s also been a time of breaking old habits, my mornings are slower and more relaxed, we go to the beach much later than we always did, I sometimes change into my PJ’s before bedtime (unheard of!). There have been new thoughts too, and even new ways of thinking and reading. Yep, I’ve had some proper down days, right enough, but I’ve also been stunned by our amazing Bible so that I can’t help trying to communicate just how fabulous it is. I mean, I always knew it was good but this takes ‘good’ to a whole new level.
The Bible tells just one and only story from beginning to end. Unerringly. And that story is God. That’s not bad syntax – I really mean that the story is God.
I see stories and histories as dramas, and if you were to ask me what ‘drama’ is (go on… ask me) I would define it as the portrayal of intentions, motives, actions and consequences, revealing truth. Dramatists are very practical people, we look at the games people play, the results of those games, the damage or the good that they do, and we retell it. There’s an awful lot of drama just now that’s dishonest, people-pleasing, sensational, melodramatic, psychotic rubbish, ‘How perverted can we be?’ ‘How much can we get away with?’ ‘How gruesome can we make this murder, how vicious that rape?’ That’s not good drama – it’s 21st Century penny dreadfuls. But shock brings diminishing returns so what once held us appalled but gruesomely fascinated is now banal, and so the broadcaster’s need to shock us goes on and on, delving deeper and deeper into the midden.
The first thing I look for in writing (of any kind) is honest revelation, the discovery of truth. It might be a tiny glimpse into a puddled mind, or it might be intrigue played out on the global stage, but it will always tell me something about the nature of life. In the Bible I find amazing truth, crafted and integrated, the same true story over and over again, the story of Christ, his nature, his purpose. His story is there thousands of years before he was born in Bethlehem, it builds inexorably all through the Old Testament, written over nearly two thousand years (maybe more) by writers who were poets, prophets, fishermen, scholars, nomads, it was written in deserts, in prison, in three languages… and it’s been translated into 1300 languages since then (are there really that many?) and now I can hear it on my phone, when I go for my daily permitted walk. No man could write the Bible. No team of men. Only God. God breathed.
And it’s exciting! Somehow that’s what we Christians fail to get across to the world. This book is so exciting it can make my head spin, my heart race. The expectation builds as we realise, page by page, that here and here and here! it’s all about Jesus… it’s all leading to Jesus. You know, when I read the book of Isaiah, written 800 years before Jesus came into the world, I meet him on every page. That’s amazingly exciting. There are no words bold enough to do it justice. In all dramas the climax is anticipated eagerly, and reached only when the central conflict has built expectation and jeopardy to a point of such intensity that the truth is at last revealed and then on that truth, the world of the drama pivots. The last act was always there, waiting.
So where is the climax of the Bible?
The climax of the Bible, its irreducible theme, powering through every page, the final conflict and victory is Jesus. The Bible brings us Jesus. The Bible is Jesus.
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
But the drama doesn’t end with the death and resurrection. Rather it explodes there – lighting up our existence, banishing the dark, sending a shock wave through history and into the future, reaching back into the past, making everything, beyond existence, beyond thought, about Jesus. You know how scientists talk about the Big Bang, and the expanding universe? I don’t have any problem with that. The Big Bang is Jesus. His power expanding to encompass all of time and space even as he creates it.
The explosive power of Jesus reverberates even now, his truth working today, his living word changing lives, transforming our understanding, bringing repentance and love and hope.
The echo of Jesus will never fade. When all is told and all is done, and every tear is wiped away, his life will permeate eternity. His purpose fulfilled.