Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
As we journey through this holy season of Lent, towards the celebration of the glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, we find ourselves also in a time when the whole world is stricken with fear at the spread of the new Coronavirus COVID-19. We are living through a period where what we had regarded hitherto as ‘normal’ is being replaced by fear and panic, and we are already witnessing, through countless acts of love and service, human nature at its very best. Regrettably, and perhaps inevitably, we are also seeing some of the very worst aspects of human nature at this time; the theft of hand gels from hospitals, the reselling of hoarded shop-bought medical supplies at vastly inflated prices online, and the selfish panic buying of items without regard to their provision for the sick, elderly and vulnerable.
As we drive through eerily quiet streets, to supermarkets where shelf upon shelf has been stripped bare, there is a sense in which the everyday fears which normally loom so large in our society are being usurped by a more ancient and primal fear, the fear of a disease against which we have no immunity, and which is even now disrupting the very fabric of our lives. As ‘normality’ becomes a memory, and as our world becomes more unfamiliar with each passing day, we realise more than ever the need for the virtues of faith, hope, and love to be manifested in our world.
As we witness the suspension of all that we regard as normality, and as we contemplate the slenderness of the thread which separates life from death, and the suddenness with which it can be broken, we see through the illusory nature of materialist consumerism, and are impelled towards a deeper reliance on the truths at the heart of our Christian Faith. As Christians we are called to bear witness to the light of Christ which shines to our world as a beacon of invincible hope; we who now walk through the valley of the shadow of death do so in the knowledge that Jesus Christ our Good Shepherd has gone before us, that we might pass from death to life.
The Church of Jesus Christ has, of course, endured through many centuries; through war, famine, revolution, persecution and countless illnesses and plagues. Earth’s proud empires pass away, and the Cross of Christ, radiant with the light of the Resurrection, towers over the wrecks of time. In adversity and in prosperity, the Church has ever held and proclaimed the truth that in Jesus Christ, love has the final word. The perfect love of God, which through the Cross and Resurrection of our Saviour has conquered all, casts out fear (I John 4:18). Let us strive to walk in the light of that invincible love.
We must approach the current situation as people who do not bow to darkness and despair, as people who remember that we are subjects of a Kingdom ‘not of this world’. As Christians we are not part of any man-made worldly institution, but rather ‘very members incorporate in the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the blessed company of all faithful people’ (Book of Common Prayer). In the Mass we eat not earthly food but the bread of Angels, and we are inspired by a truth not of this world, but of God himself. Consequently we are to be ruled not by a worldly fear which begets more fear, but by the peace of Christ, ‘which passes all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7)
We are called in the midst of the present darkness to remember the oft repeated message of Holy Scripture; “Do not be afraid” (Isaiah 43.1), and to go about our lives on the firm foundation which is faith in the living God, who heals the sick, and restores the broken hearted. If we do not take comfort from the message of the Gospel, then all we are left with, in life and in death, is fear and darkness. As people who have walked in darkness, but have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2), we must strive to be, in the words of Bishop Irenei of the Russian Orthodox Church, “examples to the world of pious trust in God that leads not to undisciplined alarm, but rather to a continuance of life in an untroubled spirit and undisturbed reliance on the Divine Will.”
As you will by now be aware, all public worship has been suspended for the time being, but the prayers of the Church, and the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass will continue in our parish; and there will shortly be an internet live-stream of Mass from All Saints, so that you can join in at home. I am here for you as your priest, and please do not hesitate to phone or email me for any reason, and I shall be phoning round frequently. Let us, as the body of Christ, in our offering of Mass, and in prayerful and practical support for those around us, continue the Church’s ancient witness to the perfect love of God which casts out fear. Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again!
I conclude my reflection with a prayer, which was kindly made available to me by Father Adam Dunning, Chaplain of Cheltenham College;
May we who are merely inconvenienced, remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors, remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home, remember those who must choose between preserving their health or paying their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when the schools close, remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips, remember those with no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market, remember those who have no money at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country, Let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
let us find ways to be the loving embrace of God to others
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory both now, and unto the ages of ages. Amen