Grace and peace to you and to all in your "bubble". I hope you are all slowly adjusting to this new season of life. It's a lot to take in, finding yourself more alone, physically away from loved ones, trying to homeschool, maybe while also working from home, and explaining to little ones why they can't go to the park. Some of you are also working extremely hard on the frontlines of our essential services.
The pastoral word I know that I need to hear, and that I want to encourage you with, is pause. Breathe!
The last week has been a sprint for many of us as we've strived to get things in place before we entered phase 4 of physical distancing. Thank you for every act of love that has helped enable us to continue with common prayer and worship in the coming weeks, and to ensure our connectedness online and via phone. The thing is, we can't keep up that pace for the long haul. The Christian faith is often described as a walk. For good reason. As we find ourselves trying to establish new rhythms in our own homes, let's ensure that these rhythms prioritise prayer and scripture reflection. Think of the story of Mary and Martha in Luke's gospel.
Amidst the cacophony of voices from news cycles, social media updates and our own internal voice that often leads to harsh judgment of ourselves and others, we need to stop and hear the word of God. I was encouraged by the lectionary reading from a couple of days ago.
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
In response to the work of Jesus, we are exhorted to three things (and note the order - it's important):
1) Draw near to God. God is not into physical distancing! He is with us, promises to never leave us or forsake us! The wall that divided us has been torn down in Christ, and God invites us to be in his presence. How might you take up that invitation? What might it look like? Use the parish prayer book for morning and evening prayer. There are two especially for families.
2) Hold fast to the hope we have. As many of the things we tend to build our lives on are slowly stripped away in a time of crises like this, we recognise our need to hold on to the sure and certain hope we have, the rock we can build on instead of the sinking sand. God's Word. Listen to Pachelbel's Canon - remember the unchanging baseline we've talked about in recent sermons, like God's unfailing, constant love. Hold fast to this!
3) Consider how we can encourage one another towards love and good deeds. Yes, I get the irony that follows about meeting together, but now's the chance to be creative. Now's the time to find new ways to love and worship, just like the Israelites had to do when they were exiled in Babylon, far away from the temple in Jerusalem. Psalm 137:1 "By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down. Yea we wept, when we remembered Zion." Their practices changed, God didn't!
Start brainstorming ideas about how we can be family in the days ahead. Who can you "invite for dinner" online over zoom, facebook, or skype? Who can you pray evening prayer with over the phone? The exhortation here is to build up habits that draw us into community and make us stronger in love, not to allow this season to produce habits that weaken our ties.
This starts in our own hearts, so pause, breath, and hear God's invitation to draw near.