Church of England Diocese of Durham Shincliffe

A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Paul

29 Mar 2020, 12:15 a.m.
Church_news Lent

A Pastoral Letter                                                                   Passion Sunday 29th March 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today is passion Sunday, the gateway to Passiontide where our focus turns towards the suffering of our Lord Jesus as we journey with him towards Holy Week and the cross and, in time, to the Resurrection. Inn all honesty, something of the rhythm of Lent has been lost for me over the past two weeks. So much has happened in our nation, and we as the Church of England have had to play our full part in helping others ass much as we can to respond wisely to the very hard situation that we all face. We are in this together, as a nation and around the globe. So there has been much work taking place, locally, and nationally, happening a ta  fast pace and changing day by day. 

There is a lot of emotion surfacing at the moment and I feel it too.
The first is fear; that natural fear of what is happening and what lies ahead; fear for our own families and friends; fear for ourselves.
Then there is sadness; sadness for those who whose loved one's funerals and their own grieving have been disrupted; sadness for those who have had to postpone weddings and baptisms; sadness that our schools have had to close; sadness at not being able to visit people as we long to do.
For many of us there has been that uncomfortable sense of anger; anger at the virus; anger at those ignoring guidance and stripping shelves bare needlessly.
There is also pity; pit for those who are suffering badly; pity for those who are dying and those bereaved.
Finally, there is pride; pride in our NHS and the amazing staff; pride in our Emergency Services and armed services; pride in all those working in Government and the civil service to handle this at breakneck speed.
I am immensely proud of the clergy, lay readers and others who have responded so amazingly quickly and adapted in a whole host of ways to keep the church worshipping and praying in our homes. I am proud of the way you are praying, caring, supporting, volunteering and seeking top be the Body of Christ in ways we have never experienced before so broadly.

Thank you for all you have done, for all you are doing and for all you will continue to do.

I recognise that the coming weeks will be very difficult indeed. There is much more sadness ahead before we begin to come through the other side of this pandemic. So pray honestly; lament, rage, cry out, thank, intercede and keep looking to our Lord, who will keep on saying to us, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine."  [Isaiah 43 v.1]

The gospel reading for today from John chapter 11 begins with the reality of death. It includes the fear of death. I has Thomas rather bravely, and yet grimly, committing to die with Jesus if that is what following him means. It then goes into the extraordinary story of how Jesus responds to both Mary and Marth's grief at the loss of their beloved brother, Lazarus. Jesus then raises Lazarus from the dead. In the midst of this we have Jesus declaration, "I am the Resurrection and the Life." That hope lies at the heart of our faith. In the weeks ahead there will be sadness at loss. There will be a need to be like Thomas, sticking with Jesus even though the outlook  seems grim. There will be need to comfort those who have lost loved ones. There will be suffering and pain. Most who catch the virus [and it is likely to be most of us at some point in the coming months] will recover; we might not even be that ill ourselves. But we already know it will be a tough battle for a significant number, and for some, it will end in death. So, just as Passiontide begins with this story of hope, so too, we will need to travel this road knowing that God travels with us. We will need to hold onto our Easter hope and the truth of the Resurrection. There will be much Good Friday and Holy Saturday sadness; but Easter is coming and beyond that is 'the great day of resurrection' that is yet to be.

My sisters and brothers, you are in Bishop Sarah's and my prayers. Thank you for being faithful to Jesus. Hold fast to God. fear not. Trust in the 'One who is the Resurrection and the Life.'

+ Paul