St Martin-in-Meneage Mattins 11.10.20
My text today is taken from John 14, Chapter 1: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. These words occur between the Last Supper and Gethsemane when Jesus is giving his final teaching to the disciples. He knows that the hour of his Passion has arrived but Peter won’t accept this. Jesus is saying ‘Let me do what is needful now. I do this for my Father in heaven and for the whole world. You don’t understand yet, Peter, but you will. It is only I that can do this work. So please, ‘Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.’
The period since March, when this pandemic first affected us, has been a time when many of us have felt troubled and sometimes afraid. The risks of catching Covid 19 are very different for different people, as we know. Some of us now have to live with the rather ominous label of being ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ in pandemic times and are still having to be very cautious. This in spite of the fact that others seem to have returned something like ‘normal life’, at least until the recent upsurge in infection Covid rates. Most people have been meeting with friends and family, going shopping, enjoying a meal out or a drink in the pub, or even going on holiday.
As is now being recognised, this is causing conflict and division in our communities and in wider society. And even between us Christians in the Church of England. Some people feel able to return to a gathering in church like this, whilst others think the risks are too high, especially when Covid cases are once again on the increase. It is just a fact that the risks are not the same for every person, so there is no cut and dried advice that can satisfy every member of society. This is a situation which we simply cannot completely control – which upsets all our apple carts and threatens our fantasies of human power and freedom.
Psychologically, and spiritually, this seems to affect us in three main ways:
- I might turn inward, become worried, anxious, depressed. (GP diagnoses of depression have increased threefold during the pandemic period so far.) This can mean that I forget that God is with me. My heart is It’s hard to believe that God still loves this broken world. I have had times like this. Like when I got the dreaded letter telling me that I should ‘shield myself’ for three months; and when someone we knew died after catching the virus; or when Bob and I were trying to decide if it was safe enough for us to return to church on Sundays; and now when things look set to get worse again over the winter.
- Another response is to turn my fears outwards and blame other people. It’s they who are responsible for spreading the virus, those university students or all those people out enjoying themselves on a Saturday night in the middle of a global pandemic. Or it’s the government’s fault for not managing our health services properly.
- The third response is something like denial. I’m just going to carry on as though nothing was the matter; I will not let my personal freedom be restricted, just because of a bit of scaremongering. And of course Scripture tells us over and over ‘Do not be afraid’. So perhaps, if I am a real Christian, I should not be afraid of this virus. I should trust in God to protect me, even when the doctors warn that I would be very unlikely to survive a Covid attack. Even some clergy in our own church of England have highlighted the pressure they feel under to conduct services and do pastoral work, even when they are themselves ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’.
So how are we to respond to those words from John’s Gospel,
‘Do not let your heart be troubled’?
Well, one thing I’ve found helpful is to restrict the amount of TV and radio news I listen to! I believe we are just not cut out for this constant diet of ‘gloom and doom’.
Even so, I did catch the government’s recent Covid safety slogan ‘Space – Face – Hands’. When I first heard it, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I felt glad that this sensible advice was being spelt out clearly, so we can all try to take care of each other. On the other hand, it did stir up rather depressing feelings about our ‘new normal’ world and I can quite see why less vulnerable people find it hard to accept. Children have to go back to school, people have to be able to earn a living, we need to spend time with our families and friends. We can’t flourish as human beings without all these things that make life worth living .
So how could I try and draw something positive and uplifting out of this slogan ‘Space – Face – Hands’, and respond to Jesus’s message ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled’?
This is what I came up with:
First ‘space’: Let’s create a special space in our lives where we can be with God each day.
It might be a physical space – a prayer corner or a special chair in our home; out in the garden or on a favourite local walk…even in the car, like a lady I know, who listens to hymns while she’s driving…
Or you can make a space by finding a special time of day when it suits you to pause with God – in the morning, having your first cuppa and thinking over the day to come; a little break in your busy day; a bit of time before sleep just to check in with Jesus…
Or there’s that space you keep in your heart, that place you can return to at odd times and remember that God loves you and wants the very best for all of us…
Next we come to ‘face’: Jesus is the face of God. He shows us what God is like and how much God loves us. So you might want to have something to remind you of the face of Jesus.
This might be something visual, an image (like the postcard of the Blessing Redeemer in my prayer book) …
Maybe something tangible can remind you – something like a pebble in your pocket, or a conker or an acorn. Julian of Norwich held a hazelnut in the palm of her hand. She said that it reminded her that ‘It lasts and ever shall because God loves it. And all things have being through the love of God.’ …
Or perhaps a favourite Gospel story can bring Jesus’s face to mind – when Mary meets the Easter gardener and then recognises the face of her risen Lord…or Peter out fishing who sees a man on the shore and just knows straightaway by the cut of him that it is Jesus…
Lastly, our ‘hands’ are important not just for Covid hygiene but are expressive of our relationship with God. Putting our hands together in prayer can really help our own hearts to be less troubled, as well as bringing comfort to the people we pray for.
So whatever happens, may we look after each other and behave wisely and considerately towards our neighbours during these difficult times.
But as well as this, let’s remember it’s not all down to us.
As Jesus says, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.’
Patti Owens St Martin in Meneage Church 11th October 2020