In my notes for the magazine for February I commented that we were living in a lull and while I felt that something was coming, I had no idea what it would be, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. Now we know – at least in part.
Whereas war is violent, noisy and dramatic, this Covid-19 is something quite different. It is silent and hidden, and so far there are no specially dramatic images apart from those of doctors and nurses at their duties, and of panicking shoppers desperate to secure themselves against want.
Yet externally our streets look the same as they did before but our connections with one another and with others are now stretched as we protect against undue personal contact. In church we had already suspended the common cup of the communion, and our greetings during the peace also became more nuanced, if no less sincere.
In the community however there is a deeper sense of anxiety and even fear. Part of the difficulty is in being able to find the right words without being trite or superficial. Yes, we live in the freedom of the resurrection of Jesus and of His victory over death, so death itself holds no horrors for us even if we may wonder at the time and manner of our passing.
But then much of our life is protected by a sophisticated structure of social and medical support, by forces to keep peace in our streets and to give justice in our courts. In the Psalms, Psalm 91 tells of security ‘under the shadow of the Almighty. I shall say of the Lord “He is my refuge and my fortress, My God in Him I will trust” (verses 1-2) … You shall not be afraid of the terror by night … nor the pestilence that walks in the darkness, nor the destruction that lays waste at noonday’ (verses 5-6).
Paul wrote of ‘much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in sleeplessness, in fastings…’ (2 Corinthians 5: 4-5) and made a point of not complaining or boasting.
As Christians we live in two worlds: the world of Jesus’ resurrection and the glories of the gospel message, and the world of today and these neighbours, this street, this form of governance. It is that very in-betweenness that is blessed and in which is our witness abides. It is that peace amid anxiety and that patience when others are distressed that matters. This is perhaps not the time to provide lectures but it is a time to show that we are borne by different current. There may well be opportunities to give others an assurance of one form or another. This generation of the church is not facing anything that other generations have not, and yet it continues to be sustained by the Word Made Flesh, by Jesus Christ and Him crucified, by His resurrection from the dead and His gift of the Holy Spirit to the church.
These will be days when we may not know what to say or even do, and in itself this will be the time to rely on the wisdom and strength that the Lord gives us. There will be the time to keep silence and the time to speak out. (Ecclesiastes 3: 7). It may be that when we are feeling most inadequate that we are giving the Lord to speak and act in us, and for Himself.
And so we have no need to give in to our anxieties – this will be the time to lay them down before the Lord, and let Him guide us. I think that we may be surprised at the outcome.