It is really strange seeing the signs of springtime appearing while the life of the church and much of the city has been stilled, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. Conditions in almost all aspects of life are still highly unpredictable, in terms of the weather, progress of the Covid pandemic, the restarting of our national life, and the vagaries of political life.
One temptation is to take cover and hope that it all blows over so that we can emerge from our enforced social hibernation when conditions are right. But then we are also social beings, with personal and spiritual lives and we want to engage with one another, especially when the times are turbulent.
But we can also turn this to our advantage – or at least we learn from and within it. One reason why the pandemic has been so disturbing is that it has undercut our normal sense of order and the support systems that we take for granted. Now we have found a sense of vulnerability against which there is little defence. For some, even going to the shops for our household needs is a trial and an anxiety. The very community which is normally so supporting to us is seen as threatening, so our relations with others are awkward and even tinged with fear.
But if this sense of vulnerability is new to us and if our support mechanisms now seem unreliable, then we are finding a new kind of kinship with others in our own land and certainly abroad who also live from hand to mouth, uncertain of the next meal, or even of whether there will be shelter for the night.
Not only that, but Jesus had told His disciples that “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Luke 9: 58) This was part of His ministry as He relied on local hospitality as He went about Galilee and to Jerusalem. If He had to sleep in the open then He would.
St Paul said something similar to the church in Corinth: beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, in danger at sea and on land, from strangers and his own countrymen; weary, sleepless, hungry, thirsty, cold. (2 Corinthians 11: 22–33).
Yet there was a radical dependence on the providence of God, and a willingness to step out trusting that God would meet his needs as they arose. Not everyone is called to this kind of sacrificial Christian service, but I believe that we are all called to a certain detachment from possessions and from the things that underpin our sense of security. And yes, this is much more easily entertained when we are young and have few attachments or responsibilities. When years catch up on us and there are families to support then the reckoning becomes more complicated. It becomes even more demanding when the vigour of youth has been left behind and life has already begun to become simpler.
In all of this perhaps we need a new kind of engagement with our own frailty and vulnerability. Partly it is a way of seeing the vulnerabilities of others. Partly it is a means of reasserting our reliance on the Lord for our needs. It is also a new way of sharing the frailty of the early disciples and of Jesus Himself. It should certainly make us more aware of each others’ situations.
But above all it can give new life to our own prayers for others and in our own dependence of the Lord. Perhaps we do need to be less sure of ourselves (or just plain arrogant?) and the breezy assurances that other peoples’ needs will surely be met, so we do not have to be involved are also exposed for their own emptiness.
Maybe these times of testing are necessary to us, even if they are not welcome. We can still learn from and within them, and as we offer them to the Lord then He also can have the opportunity to direct our responses to them.
Maybe this Lent has more to offer us than we had thought.
Every blessing, Sydney Maitland