November is normally a busy month, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. It starts with our celebration of All Saints as our patronal festival, soon followed and observed more reflectively by All Souls. In the middle there is our Remembrance-tide commemoration and we climax with Christ the King before Advent is upon us.
This year our time will be more muted as we are constrained in our worship and our coming together afterwards. That does not mean that everything stops: more that we have to apply a little more determination to keep things together. I well remember as a child how we grew up in the aftermath of WW2 and compared notes on what our fathers had done. ‘Mine flew Spitfires’ ‘Mine was in the army’ and so on. Mine was a war correspondent at a time when the thing was to report the war, rather than to be the story oneself. That would come to a later generation.
But we are in a defining time, with many other uncertainties around us. We are not in a war, but it is a time of testing and coping with isolation, depression, frustration, and perhaps pure tedium. It is testing us but not with bullets or bombs. Rather the testing is to our morale and sense of purpose as we watch the figures on infections and mortality. We are having to find a different kind of fortitude without yielding to cynicism or discouragement amid all the varieties of lock-down.
The generation which flew Spitfires and fought in the deserts, the jungles and in the fields of Europe, at sea as well as those who flew bombing missions has largely departed this life and the resources and the leadership for our time come to us differently.
Yet our challenges are there especially as our time looks for cost-efficiency, expediency, the line of least resistance and of course to avoid being caught up in any kind of blame. These may be the words of keeping going but they are not the words of flourishing, or enthusiasm let alone exultation or exuberance. They may be about a form of survival and of existing but no more.
But Jesus came that we might have life and life in its fullness: pressed down, shaken together and running over.
This is the life of faith to be lived even – perhaps especially – when we do not feel like it. It is a life of mutual joy and sorrow as the body lives, filled and animated by the Holy Spirit under the headship of Jesus Himself. Christianity was never intended to be reserved for the times of peace and plenty – it was always to be there for the times of trial, uncertainty and difficulty, when relationships are strained and even trust, let alone confidence may be hard to find.
One of the mysteries of worship is in the way our perspectives are redirected. Instead of looking at ourselves, we are looking to the Lord. Instead of our priorities it is about His. Instead of our self-sufficiency it is about His provision, which can come in highly unexpected ways, including the time and efforts of those who worship Him. By placing Jesus front and centre in our lives we find that the details of the things that frustrate and disappoint us take on a new kind of proportion. By placing Him first we find that a new kind of order offers itself to us, new priorities and new confidences.
Our worship is never about telling the Lord anything He did not already know. It is more about declaring His order in all things and our confidence that as we pray for those times and situations that trouble us so we find ourselves seeing the aid and strength that was always there to aid us and to renew us.
No, we are not the Spitfire generation. But we are still a people of faith and prayer who seek to honour the Lord our God in the place where we are put. The aim of ‘loving God and enjoying Him for ever’ is always before us and it is in times when the shadows lengthen and the colours are muted that it is more important than ever.