This Sunday will be the first time when there will be no service of public worship at St John’s in the way we normally understand it. All religious services have been closed down by government regulation in order to slow the spread of the Covid 19 virus. However, we will be sending out the order of service with the sermon and prayers, and we will send you some links to a pre-recorded service which we will up-load to YouTube. Watch this space!
Everything is changing on a daily basis and that can be quite disorienting. This week I had a funeral where almost 100 people were present in the church, and the next day we heard that the new restrictions allowed only 10 people now to attend a funeral, and 5 for a wedding! And yet despite all the warnings and regular updates on the ABC, I still have a sense that many people in the wider community are not taking this as seriously as they need to. We need to self-isolate, to stay home as much as we can and severely limit our social contacts to the bare necessities.
I know that in many ways all this runs counter to our natural inclinations, but we need to learn to do things differently. This week the Church Council met on-line using a program called ZOOM! That platform enabled us all to see and hear each other. It was a test run for our meeting next week to make sure everyone could use and become familiar with the program. It’s all a big learning curve for us all, and it helps us keep in touch.
When I look at our readings for this coming Sunday there is much in them that resonates with what we are going through. Both our reading from Ezekiel and from the Gospel of John are very dramatic and powerful stories that touch us to the core and lead us from the ‘pits’ of life to unheard of surprises. The first is a vision Ezekiel is given where he finds himself wandering in a valley full of dried bones, human skeletons. In many ways it’s a rather terrifying sight, like that of a battlefield where bones have been left to be bleached white by the sun. And then we are told that these bones represent the whole house of Israel. It’s an image of how Israel feels about herself as a nation, as though all her hope and dreams and her future potential has been cut down and wiped away. All that is left is desolation and hopelessness.
What is expressed as national grief and communal despair, is given personal expression in the Gospel of John, where Mary and Martha, express their heartfelt grief and loss in the death of Lazarus. By the time Jesus arrives on the scene any possibility of Lazarus being resuscitated is squashed by the mention that he has been dead four days. His death is clearly and utterly final, and Martha and Mary look accusingly at Jesus who they believe could have prevented all this happening if only he had come sooner!! Do you hear the blaming language, so often prevalent in the midst of our own grieving?
I have highlighted the darkness of these passages because there are many who feel isolated, and cut off in this time of dealing with the impact of the Covid 19 virus.
But both these biblical texts carry a deep and abiding hope of resurrection and surprising new life.
The valley of bones becomes a living, breathing, loving and hopeful community with their sight on returning from exile to re-invent their nation and national identity, and Lazarus is restored to life and to his loving sisters.
This week I invite you to think about all that is life-giving for you at this time. What nurtures your hope and sustains your faith?
Spend some time in quiet and maybe read a psalm like Psalm 27 ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation’ or Psalm 91, they are songs of confident hope and protection.