Many of you will be familiar with the opening lines of L.P. Hartley’s novel ‘The Go-Between’:
The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.
As I write this, I reflect on what life was like just a week ago. It was a different world. We lived differently there. We lived differently then. Now we’re in a foreign country. And we don’t know how things work. Step by giant step we’ve tumbled into a desert of uncertainty, and we wonder, punch-drunk, if life will ever be the same again.
The coronavirus was out there somewhere. Now it’s arrived, wreaking havoc among us, taking away our liberty and our livelihood, threatening our health, our very lives and especially the lives of our more frail loved ones.
And so it is easy for fear and anxiety to grip us, as we fear what may happen and our own ability to cope with it. We may take refuge in shopping, hoarding, hiding, fleeing to the hills…
While we cannot ignore our very real fears, we can face them courageously with God’s help. Thus Psalm 46 says:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way,
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea… (Psalm 46:1-2).
A few days ago, Janet and I drove down to Bath to collect Tim from university. We use a Satnav. A couple of times, as we tried to make sense of the way to go, we lost where we were on the little screen and had to press the button that says “Recentre”. Then the screen reset and we could see exactly where we were and where to turn next. But we couldn’t see very far ahead. Just the next little bit of the journey.
At a time like this we need to “Recentre”. For Christians, to do this is to centre again on God as we know him in Jesus Christ. Our Church vision is ‘A place for everyone with Christ at the centre’. In a very real sense we were already doing this recentring in the journey of Lent. The journey to the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus which we especially celebrate at Easter.
Like on the Satnav screen, we can only see the next little bit of the journey. We don’t know where it is all leading in the days and months to come. We don’t know what is around the next corner. We’re invited to trust the one who does.
The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, makes real and gives life to the deeply felt knowledge that we are God’s children – destined not for an endless life here, nor for death and destruction, but for death and resurrection into the fulfilment of God’s kingdom, which is already among us.
With our Church building closed, and all gatherings prevented, we are in uncharted waters. But God will navigate us through, and draw us deeper into his love amidst the hardship and loss. He is always moving creatively over the sea of our chaos and darkness, to bring order, light and ground on which we can stand firm.
God is good. He is love. His creation is very good. We’ve seen some beautiful weather today as spring blossoms… We have so much to be thankful for, and we probably most need to remember that when times are tough like now.
So let us open our hearts to love God, and to be loved by God, who is our strength and refuge. Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ. Armed with this assurance, we are released into loving our neighbours and especially those most vulnerable, both nearby and far away. We will need perseverance, and God will give it. Take heart, it may be Friday, but Sunday’s coming.
With my love and prayers