As we edge closer to 'freedom from covid', whatever that means, so we are finding how much we may have changed as individuals. It isn't just the passage of time; it seems something else, a fundamental shift in who each of us is. At one level, we see a surge to the hairdressers as many long to feel better by 'looking better'. There are others who are saying (including, perhaps a former prime minister?), 'why bother with such stuff after what I've been through.' Soon there will be a rush for overseas holidays but alongside that there have been many who have turned to domestic holidays, including some who are camping for the first time at a time of life when it isn't the lower cost that's the issue.
There will be those who feel that the 'stuffing has been knocked out' of them and wish for nothing more than peace, quiet and the ability to just wander around and see friends and relatives again. For many, a simple hug may produce an emotional reaction that they couldn't imagine, holding another human being for the first time in months. Remember shaking hands?
For all of this, we can thank those who have provided us with the vaccinations that give us more confidence again, replacing fear.
We are changed, though. We became watchful of ourselves and of others, with the vulnerable careful to avoid people and places.
Christians are not immune to these things, of course. In fact, the Christian wish to love our neighbour has had to be channelled into 'avoid our neighbour' whilst at the same time helping people but avoiding risk. Christians know about transformation as it is what we individually seek; we wish to behave as Jesus taught us and to become more like him in every way. It's an impossible quest but the desire to become more Christ-like, to study the Bible to help in this and to try to change what we do, leads us in the direction of transformation.
We also know that, along the way, we will slip and slide, fool ourselves that we are getting there, conceal our bad points and actions and generally not behave like Jesus at all. We try but we know that we fail and that we will fail. Jesus knew this, naturally, and his wonderful message of God's forgiveness rings out. It was one of the points that Martin Luther couldn't get his head around for many years, as he regularly 'beat himself up' that he couldn't possibly be saved no matter how hard he tried. One day, reading his Bible, he finally 'got it' and accepted that although his duty was to try hard to behave as Jesus said, he was saved not because of his actions but because God saved him anyway. He realised that God's forgiveness of wrongs was completely one-sided, a totally selfless act of love, forgiving him as he was, not as he failed to be. That is what God's grace is.
For Luther, it was a huge release and led to him challenging the church of that time, where it was taught that what you did and what you paid were what determined if your soul was saved. Luther opposed that totally and, with others, split the church and gave hope to millions of souls.
He was transformed and others have been since. The big stories in the Bible are of transformations, as when Paul, the arch-enemy of Jesus and his followers, changed to become the most active apostle for Christ of his age. They are when Peter was changed from a weak turncoat (in his own eyes) into the courageous leader of a new church that embraced everybody in the world rather than just the Jews.
Transformations can happen gradually or they can be triggered by major external events or internal crises. The emergence from covid after what has been a long journey through the Valley of Death may bring both of these for many....perhaps for you. Even as most of the rest of the world continues to struggle, we each have the chance to either dive back into the comfort of old ways or to ask ourselves, 'what has this done to me, where am I heading and where do I feel that I should be heading?' I pray that you may also think, 'maybe the life that Jesus led and the ideas that he taught will take me in the right direction. I think I'll try to find out.' If you do, Jesus will be waiting for you and God's gift of forgiveness, of accepting you as you are, will be there for you to accept. Amen.