In times to come, how do you think you will remember the year that has just passed? No matter what our age or how broad our experiences of life, 2020 was a year like no other. In my article for The Link in January 2020 I spent some time reflecting on the famous reading from Ecclesiastes, the one that begins: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Whilst I cannot remember my exact thoughts as I quoted from the well-known passage, I am sure that, even in my wildest imaginings, I was not thinking of the challenges we have all had to face over the last nine months, and will have to continue to face in the days (we hope!) to come.
At the end of last year’s article I wrote these words: As we begin a new year, I pray that we may all be fed and encouraged, guided and strengthened by the message of love that Jesus gives to us all. I also pray that we may focus on the wisdom of looking forward in hope and joy as we live out our daily lives. As I recalled these words, it struck me how much this has been my prayer throughout the past year. I do not believe that there is anyone whose life has not been affected by the pandemic of 2020. Families have not been able to meet and support each other; our homes have become workplaces, that is for those who have been fortunate enough not to lose their jobs; the nature of education and medical services has changed radically; funerals have taken on an intimate air that is completely contrary to the big ‘celebrations’ they had become in recent years; weddings and baptisms have ground to a halt. For a while all public worship was stopped and, even now, it can only take place under strictly controlled conditions. There is not a single aspect of our daily lives that has not been affected. All of this disruption may make some feel as though my prayer of January 2020 was irrelevant, and certainly not answered. But, is that the case?
In January 2020 I reflected on a passage from Ecclesiastes. That book sits just after the Psalms and the Proverbs in the Old Testament. It is one of the Wisdom books, that is one of those books which reflect upon the relationship between God and humanity. As with all relationships there are both good times and bad times. As in all families there are times when we seem to understand each other and times when we definitely do not. In my prayer, which is just as relevant in January 2021, I prayed that we might begin the new year ready to be fed and encouraged, guided and strengthened by Jesus’ message of love for all.
As I look around our community, I see definite signs of that prayer having been answered in unexpected and abundant ways. Within our community there has grown up a culture of care for the most vulnerable. A culture that brings to life Jesus’ command to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. A whole new system of mutual support has evolved that helps to reduce the negative effects of isolation and other restrictions.
I also prayed that we might look forward in hope and joy. Another prayer that some might view as having little relevance to our current situation. Again, I would challenge that negativity. As we all know, the world is divided by those who see the glass as being half full and those who see it as being half empty. That is the nature of the human condition. However, that is not the way to a happy and fulfilled life. A life where we learn from the past whilst looking forward in hope and joy! I often encounter people who speak of the regrets they have for things they have said and done in the past. Some of those people seem to be weighed down by issues that arose many years ago, whilst others have learned their lessons and used that learning to empower them as they move forward in life. It is the latter group we should all be aiming to emulate, those who want to live life to the full, even if they do have to spend more time in their homes and less time socialising with family and friends.
The title for this month’s article comes from the carol, Deck the halls. It is the first line of the last verse. After the words: Fast away the old year passes it goes on to say: Hail the new, ye lads and lasses… Laughing, quaffing, all together… Heedless of the wind and weather.
This January, I hope and pray that the days of laughing and quaffing may soon return. But, in the meantime let us hail the new, heedless of the wind and weather. Let us go forward in 2021 overflowing with the spirit of hope and joy.
Revd Stephen Buckman