“Every single person in the country is affected by this” I was told and so we are. Who would have thought that our lives could be so dramatically transformed by a disease that nobody had ever heard off until a few months ago? All social gatherings have been banned and people have been encouraged to work from home. Schools have closed and Churches have had to cease all acts of public worship. Prime-ministerial news briefings have spoken about ‘flattening the curve’ to give the NHS the time and space to cope with the rising number of infections and those who are over 70, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions have been encouraged to go into self-isolation. Social distancing has become the new social responsibility and the nation has been put on a ‘war’ footing. The health crisis has also become an economic crisis with the Chancellor of the Exchequer pumping £330 billion pounds (15% of GDP) into the economy to help businesses pay their rent, salaries and suppliers – the largest ever injection of aid in ‘peace time’ Britain. The Chancellor is clearly committed to ‘doing whatever it takes’ to overcome this crisis and yet the Prime Minister’s frankness has been clear from the start ‘many more families will lose loved ones before their time’. It’s a truly nerve-racking and terrible situation, a situation outside of our experience, and which has brought out both the best and the worst in us. Many people are kindly looking after their neighbours whilst others are sadly and selfishly panic buying in the supermarkets and shops.
If we ever needed a reminder of the imperfection of our world, then surely this is it! For many of us, calamities and disasters usually happen to other people, somewhere on the other side of the world. We are not used to the fact that in a global situation and in a truly global pandemic this one might actually affect us.
And yet for the Christian this all rings strangely true, for the Christian will be aware that in many ways, theologically speaking, we have never lived in a perfect world; for Genesis reminds us that when we think we are ‘masters of all that we survey’ and are in charge of our own destiny perhaps knowing better than even God himself, then something always happens to trip us up and we are destined for a fall. Now God has graciously gifted us with many wonderful qualities and characteristics, such as knowledge, skill and intellect and we are constantly amazed at what human endeavour and intuition can achieve, but fundamentally the heart of the problem is always the same – it’s the problem of the human heart, which wants to do things our own way and keep God out of the picture. This bias to self (which affects us all) the Bible calls sin and spoils our relationships with God, with one another and even with creation. It’s the worst of all social distancing! What we need is a new start and a new hope!
Fortunately, the Christian is aware that despite the fact that many of us may have forgotten God, he doesn’t forget us, for in the person of Jesus, God steps into this broken and fallen world of ours and bears the brunt of our pain and our sin in his own body upon the cross. He’s the one who truly does ‘whatever it takes’! He dies the death that we all deserve precisely so we don’t have to when we put our faith and trust in him – and he does this because he loves us. Christ’s death is awful and frightening, and if he were just an ordinary man then it would be the end of the story, but it’s not – because Christians recognise that Jesus isn’t simply human, he’s divine, he’s the Son of God, God made flesh, God incarnate and his resurrection proves it as witnessed by so many of his day.
He is therefore as the risen Lord, , a man of the ‘new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5.17 / Revelation 21.1), a man of the new life and perfectly restored order, which is promised eternally to all who believe. This is the joyful essence of Easter Day and it provides us not just with the courage and strength to meet the challenges of this moment (however dark it may be) but hope for the future, for as the Bible reminds us ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3.16).
So, yes, despite the difficulties of the present moment, may I take this opportunity for myself and the parishes I represent to wish you all a very happy and joyful Easter.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all … this day and always. 2 Corinthians 13.14