A letter from Revd Charles Dale, one of our Area ministers. April 2021
Time seems to have flown by since the last letter I wrote in July last year bang in the middle of Lockdown 2, with the hope of coming through that period and getting back to normal and here we are in Lockdown 3.! I think it is more important than ever to ask of oneself ‘how am I really coping and getting on both physically and mentally?’ Life certainly isn’t the same and we’ve gone through such a lot of changes since then and we have to get used to the new way of being and doing and adapting to a new norm.
Thankfully for me, what hasn’t changed is my faith and trust in God, times of waiting on him and persevering in prayer and praise; enjoying the natural world around me (although Kingstone woods has been a tad muddy over the winter months!) and the love of my close family. These things comfort my soul. But you might expect that of me! However, I have found these times as challenging as anyone else, with lots of wilderness times.
It has helped for me to reflect on Jesus and of his wilderness experience; of how he felt and what was going through his mind as he negotiated that time in a barren landscape, famished and full of the temptations of earthly life. This, after he had received that wonderful affirmation from God at his baptism as the Spirit descended on him as he came out of the waters to start his earthly ministry. Rather though, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness! I’m sure that experience was not what he was really expecting. Even more so as he entered what we now call Holy Week and the dark and tragic events that led to his cruel death on the cross. The events of the last twelve months weren’t what we were expecting either, with its restrictions and bereavements of all kinds.
You may feel you are in a wilderness place as you negotiate the do’s and don’ts of Lockdown and the consequences of the pandemic; lamenting the days gone by and of untold personal hardships in your life. What are the things that have kept you going? What brings you comfort?
As well as dry barrenness, wildernesses can though be places of development and growth. Much of the Bible and its times involve desert experiences with times, yes of testing and waiting on the Lord, but also of discovery and blossoming. The people of Israel wandered for 40 formative years, but they eventually crossed over into the Promised Land. Jesus had 40 days of testing and formation after which, as St Luke writes, ‘the power of the Holy Spirit was with him’, just as he was at the baptism. Jesus was strengthened and enabled for his ministry through these experiences, but throughout often went to out of the way places to pray, to continue to be refreshed by God, his Father.
I take heart in the fact that, for Jesus, the wilderness and the dark tragic time of Holy Week culminated in something more glorious. That glory can be yours too, whatever you have personally lamented in these past times.
Easter is a time when we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, promising new life and hope for those who trust in him.
One of the churches canticles is called ‘The Song of the Wilderness’. It’s set as an Advent song of praise, but I think is really appropriate for our times and of the promise of hope that is Easter. Its starts like this:
‘The wilderness and dry land shall rejoice; the desert shall blossom and burst into song. They shall see the glory of the Lord; the majesty of our God.’
On Easter Day, Mary stood weeping at the tomb, but Mary’s tears of sadness soon became tears of joy. To her was revealed the glory of the risen Lord. Whatever you have lamented and mourned these last twelve months, may your tears of sadness turn into tears of joy; may you too know the comfort and glory of the risen Lord.
There are better times coming and we will be together again; times when your own wilderness and dry land shall rejoice and your desert blossom and burst into song. As you journey on may you be comforted and strengthened in the song: ‘Alleluia, Christ is risen.’ May your response be: ‘He is Risen indeed, Alleluia.’
Blessings and peace