Where does one start writing an inspiring and reassuring message as the whole world journeys through such strange times? That is exactly the thought that went through my mind as I began to write this article for our community magazine. I thought I knew where I was going to be going but then, like everyone else, I found my whole world turned upside down. Suddenly I was no longer preparing to celebrate the ancient rituals of Holy Week and Easter, instead I was trying to invent new ways of bringing the two thousand year old story of Jesus’ resurrection into lives that have been struck down in so many ways.
Over the last few months we have seen the approach of the effects of the Coronavirus as it has marched across the globe. We have watched governments, health professionals and scientists struggle to find the most effective way to deal with a disease for which we have no cure. We have developed our own views and opinions on what could and should have been done – well, that’s what human beings do, isn’t it!? We have spent some time feeling quite safe in rural Lincolnshire but then, gradually, we have all realized that we do not live in an immune bubble. We know people who have contracted the disease, we have learnt to fear close contact with others, we have had to change our routines and stay indoors. We have learnt new words and phrases such as ‘self-isolation’, ‘lockdown’ and ‘social distancing’. We have had to do this without the fun of going to our local pubs and restaurants. Schools and businesses have been forced to shut down while those working on the frontline, to bring healthcare and essential daily supplies into our lives, have been expected to function normally, even if they have felt exposed and under-protected. There can surely be no doubt in anyone’s mind – life is very, very different.
So, how is all this affecting your life?
I have certainly seen people who are living in fear and apprehension because of their personal vulnerability due to age or pre-existing infirmity. I have seen the signs of growing tensions as families are forced to live together in enclosed spaces for the whole of each day. I have seen the concern of small business owners as they wrestle with the projected financial consequences of being forced to cease trading for the duration of the crisis. Yes, I have seen the negatives that the media seem to revel in describing on a nightly basis.
But … I have also seen something else. As soon as the extent of the crisis became obvious I also saw groups of people get together to form informal volunteer forces that expressed their determination to support the vulnerable, no matter what. Campaigns were launched to make sure that people did not feel forgotten and neglected. Food and medicine deliveries were arranged on a local level, so that those who really need help will, indeed, receive that help. I saw a living out of the teaching of St Paul in a most striking and moving way. At the end of his famous 13th chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul talks of three great Christian virtues that surpass all others. In the King James Version of the Bible these are listed as Faith, Hope and Charity. In more recent translations they are rendered as Faith, Hope and Love. That change from Charity to Love is just one of semantics because, in Christian terms, they mean exactly the same thing.
As we celebrate Easter in a very different way, with churches closed and services on-line, so we are being called to recognise that difference is not necessarily a bad thing. In the early history of the Christian church, the principle responsibility of believers was to support those who were weaker than themselves. Over the centuries, that need to show faith and hope through acts of Christian charity and love has become dulled as we have developed into a society that espouses the dangerous maxim: charity begins at home. Rather than looking outward in faith and hope, we have learnt to make sure that everything is good for us as individuals, and then to offer some help (if it is convenient) out of the scraps we have left.
It is my hope and prayer that, if nothing else comes out of these unsettling and challenging times, there might come a renewed determination to truly live in the spirit of St Paul’s words. I hope and pray that we may all go forward in the years to come in faith and hope, having finally seen how important it is to live in charity and love with all.
Revd Stephen Buckman