‘And remember’, Jesus tells us, ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20).
What words could be better, more needed and more relevant for today than those? During the extended time of lockdown many people have been feeling more isolated and cut off from their own communities, including church communities. People have felt perhaps as if they were alone, as if Jesus was not with them, as if they have been forgotten. As churches begin to open much is being written about how we should do this, what it means, and whether we can ever ‘return to normal’. I think we can most probably never ‘return to the old normal’ because so much has changed, and we have to adjust to new restrictions and new demands in order to keep ourselves and others safe.
Recently the Bishop of Norwich commented: ‘During lockdown I sense that Church of England communities have asked less ‘Will you come to this?’ ‘Will you buy that?’, and more ‘How can we help?’ ‘What do you need?’ ‘Can we pray for you?’’ And goes on to say that. ‘Far from being absent we have been more present serving our neighbours’.
We have needed to make a much more conscious effort to keep in touch with each other, we have encouraged and supported one another through this time. And perhaps therefore the balance of being part of the church community has changed – and I hope it has and that it will remain like this. Finances and keeping the church building open is vitally important, don’t get me wrong, but ‘being’ a caring church family is, I think, as much so.
Jesus promises to be with us always. That’s not necessarily a promise that we will always be doing what we want. Sometimes we need to make a move to something new and different. This is the time now; this is the Church’s time. This is your time and my time, to look towards something new and different, collecting and taking with us the best of the past traditions, and adding innovations.
A Jewish friend of mine once told me that in his tradition there is a collection of ethical teachings, Pirkei Avot [Sayings of the Fathers] and that in one of which the rabbi says: ‘It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to desist from it’. (Pirkei Avot 2:16)
I had those words in mind as the ending to this, almost before I began it!
I hear those words almost as an invitation to honesty, integrity, truthfulness, authenticity, and creativity. They hold a vision of our work before us. I trust those words will lead me, and all of us, as we open up the churches, as we take our tentative steps towards collective worship in its ‘new’ form, to a life worthy of Jesus.
With every blessing