Letter to parishioners, 23 April 2021

Friday, 23 April 2021

Dear Friends in Christ,

Over the last week I have been involved in a series of meetings where the same question has been asked: How do we sense that people are coping with the Covid restrictions, over a year since the first lockdown began? That was followed by the theme of yesterday evening’s Pilgrim Course session – the way we honour God’s gift to humanity of Sabbath, a weekly day of rest. The reason I connect these events in this week’s letter is because of the universal responses I heard to the question about ‘coping’ and the responses, meditations and reflections of those involved in the Pilgrim Course session.

Every person I heard talking about their own and their parishioners’ responses to the Covid restrictions used the same sort of vocabulary: tiredness, exhaustion, hopelessness, isolation, fear, even despair. They also spoke of the fact that ‘working from home’ had increased the workload for many, had taken moments of refreshment out of the day, had reduced contact with others to business-only interactions on video conferencing software. They spoke of there being no time for a Sabbath (a day of rest). It was, therefore, both timely and restorative to spend some time reflecting on God’s gift of Sabbath.

During the course of the last thirteen months everyone’s pattern of daily existence has changed. The need to protect ourselves and our loved ones has driven us into a very different way of living. Existing local friendships have turned into more formal support networks; a whole new lexicon of ‘bubbles’ and ‘households’ has emerged. Many who were hesitant and resistant to the use of technology have found that it has become the only way to stay in touch with others, not to mention shop! But for some, the loneliness of isolation has emphasized a sense of feeling alone, feeling abandoned. For others, the pressure of work and meeting the expectations of others have created an almost intolerable level of anxiety, even when the expectations have been unrealistic, self-obsessed, or even illegal!

This week’s gospel reading (John 10:11-18) offers us some consolation and reassurance as the days of uncertainty continue. In these few verses we hear of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Unlike the hired hand, Jesus is always with us, caring for us, helping us to rise when we stumble, and carrying us when we are too weak to walk without assistance. When I think back to the responses I heard to the questions about coping with Covid, I would like to add distracted. We are too easily distracted from the simplest fact of our faith: Jesus is always with us. We forget too easily the reality, the reassurance and the love of Jesus when our carefully crafted ways of life are disrupted. Suddenly we turn off our ‘faith antennae’ and we fall back on our own needs and whims. Too easily we fall into the trap of focusing on the personal and we are even less likely to follow the example of Jesus when he modelled a life of love and service. But … surely this is just the sort of time when we should allow ourselves to focus on the presence of Christ in our lives and stop making unrealistic demands on ourselves and others! Surely this is the time when we all need Sabbath, a time of rest from all that is negative and demanding, a time to thank God and to share the joy of our faith with others.

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen