This Tuesday in Passiontide - the 23rd day of March 2021, marks exactly a year since the start of public health restrictions on what we now wistfully refer to as 'normal life.' The severe restrictions have affected our ability to gather in a church building to worship safely. The rules have imposed a 'sacramental fast' on us as individual Christians and our liturgy as Church. In particular, we continue to endure a withdrawal from Holy Communion, Baptisms and Weddings. The trauma of the denial of any single one of these, not to mention all three, along with the ban on touching at the Peace, have changed the landscape of our experiences as a community of God's gathered people. A resort to Virtual Services significantly eased the consequences upon our worship life. Besides, we have remained steadfast, as a church at prayer and in service of our common good, primarily through the Foodbank service. Of course, we cannot say the same about the impact of the tremendous loss of lives that have trailed the days, weeks, and months of the past year. Each untimely death has imposed irreversible damage on those who mourn them, whether as sibling, parent, child or friend. For them (and for the sake of our common humanity), today is a fitting day to say, sing - even wail with the prophet Jeremiah - The Song of Lamentation. It allows us to describe, in a brutally honest way, the trauma this pandemic has visited on us. But, it also leads us to that hopeful place that God is not unaware of our pains. What is more, He will see us through them.
So let us hold on, keep holding on, as tightly as a child would hold on to its mother's hand through a time of danger. Let us set our bearing by Jesus’ response to the Greeks who dared to break through their rank as ‘outsiders’ (a people without any hope in God) to say ‘We would See Jesus.’ Let us keep holding on. Let us keep saying ‘We would See Jesus’ through all that may yet be in store for us - whether at the hands of this pandemic or other adversaries - the world, the devil, the flesh. Let us hold tightly to the startling command: 'Roll away the Stone’ (John 11). We can be confident that Jesus will eventually turn up to issue this command against every stone that works to entomb us. It His Word of release and encouragement against all that lies in the path of those who come looking for Him (John 12) It is God's assurance that even during this unimaginable chaos, of so many deaths, of deep anguish of grief, we can see Him. We will be given to see and exclaim: 'there, there is God! Even in our struggles with this vicious COVID19, God is with us. And so with confidence in the God who never forsakes us, let us, again on this anniversary, turn to this same Jesus who also cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Let us keep asking to see Jesus with an unshakable belief that God is calling us with a loud voice, saying, “Come out!” He is calling us out to a world, a community, waiting upon us as the children of God to keep on waiting upon them. (Rom 8). And it's in the full knowledge that a needy world awaits us that I again invite us to read the charge of the Lockdown Prayer issued to us a year ago. As you do so, give thanks for answered prayers, but above all, hold on to the hope of this and every Passiontide, that God is always carrying us forward even though our path is strewn with mockery, stones, rocks, thistles and thorns. In God's company we will make progress. Because God is Love, we find that as we abide in Him, we will also love. We will, whilst not denying our struggles, put away from us regret, pain, mourning, tears, hate, judgement and condemnation and all that deny Him. Instead, we will insist on seeing Jesus lifted High for the world to see!