A couple of thoughts on the Raising of Lazarus in John
In light of the Government guidance around non-essential contact, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued advice that public worship is suspended until further notice.
The Archbishops are right that churches should shut down their public gatherings for worship. Typically, churches tend to be places of concentration for groups vulnerable to infection. Any cessation of close-quarters public encounter will contribute to restricting the opportunities for this virus to spread, and it’s important that we do our part. While we have come a long way from the days when the Anglican church was practised as the state religion, it is still in our DNA to exist for the benefit of those outside of our membership, so we are actively looking for opportunities to help and support people who are isolated and fearful. It will hurt us, we will lose momentum, our income will drop, but there may be opportunities here as well.
What does a suspension of worship mean to us? We are definitely in uncharted territory, this confinement may go on for weeks or months. We may be seeing the first Holy Week and Easter which has not been publicly observed since our churches in Evesham were first built. The Christians who gather in our churches have to find some way of remaining active and networked from their living rooms. Remaining in touch will be relatively straightforward, for those of our people who are online, in one form or another. Identifying who needs to be in the loop, but who is not networked is the current task. We don’t want anyone left behind. I am currently recording video material, so that our ongoing teaching programme can continue. Other initiatives will follow, we will learn by doing.
There is an urgent task to install video recording equipment so that funerals can still be carried out, enabling people to participate from a distance.
In our sacred texts, there is a story about God’s community going into exile, being taken away from familiar land and places of worship into a foreign culture. How do you sing God’s song in a strange land? The people had to use the time to listen within to what they have brought with them, over the years. What do we miss? What is of value among the things I believe? What difference does it make? Their priests could not enact public worship and so began to tell stories about God. The six-day creation in Genesis 1, is one such composition to come out of this reflective time. I think I want to use this as a basis for encouraging people to reflect on what it is to be people of faith, particularly those for whom Sunday worship has carried their spirituality. What remains when you take away the opportunity to gather?
So, in all, there is an ever-present task of looking after the vulnerable and fearful, whether they have faith or not. For our practising Christians, it is about using this displaced time to nurture the flame which burns within them, looking anew at what difference faith makes, and being attentive to seeing the image of God in their neighbour, where they live. I think this time may turn out to be a gift to us, in reinvigorating who we are, and discerning what each of us is called by God to be.