This fifth Sunday of Lent 2021, a time of lament for some, we notice in our gospel reading that Jesus prepares His disciples for his death. This morning I am linking this reading to Jesus preparing us for changes ahead. A helpful way to summarise our current pandemic situation is in terms of culture shock. What is culture shock? Experiences such as shock, anxiety or confusion caused by suddenly living in unfamiliar surroundings. Have you ever experienced culture shock, perhaps by visiting a foreign country?- going somewhere new and finding it so, so very different to what you are used to? For example, in 2018 some of our family visited Japan. I expected the language to be different, the food to be different, the weather to be different to the UK. They were very different! I will always remember navigating Japanese signposts in Kyoto in 40degree Centigrade temperatures. But I was totally unprepared for the trains. We experienced the Japanese bullet trains. They were always on time, they were very clean inside and they were extremely fast! Up to 200mph! Culture shock in the most exciting way! However, it made the transition back to our UK trains very hard at first. Why are they so dirty? Why are they often late or cancelled? Why do they only get up to a limited speed? These feelings are examples of socalled “ reverse culture shock”. Maybe you have experienced this when you return to a familiar place after being somewhere new. Often it takes us by surprise and catches us out. With my example of the UK trains- the UK trains hadn’t changed whilst we had been in Japan- but we were suddenly shocked by them! So why I am I speaking/writing about this? The reason is that we are currently in the middle of culture shock caused by the pandemic and its restrictions. What’s more, lockdown restrictions are starting to ease. Experts on the subject are expecting us to experience reverse culture shock in the months ahead. Simon Barrington, leadership consultant, says of culture shock “The pandemic restrictions have disrupted familiar routines and predictable interaction…leading to insecurity and anxiety.” This Spring we will begin to return to, what we expect to be familiar ways; and yet we will discover, sooner or later, that we have changed, and that the world we live in has changed. Eg. Working from home has increased, online shopping boomed… Crematoriums- it is expected that many funerals will be live-streamed. We need to be ready for changes ahead. On reverse culture shock Simon Barrington says:” There will be a honeymoon period where we will all be delighted to do things together again, party and eat out and go back to the workplace. The honeymoon period will end and there will be moments of disillusionment as we realise that i) we have changed and ii) everyone else has changed. There will then be a period of readjustment as we question our purpose, think through what we want to be doing with the rest of our lives and make choices about old habits that we want back and those that are gone for good.” This process takes time. The good news is that Jesus already knows about all of this. In John’s gospel chapter 12 we see a great example of Jesus preparing His disciples for such an experience. Jesus says “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”(verses 23-24) Jesus had to die to bring new life. The first disciples had already undergone a culture shock when their world was turned inside out by Jesus. Now they were discovering that they would have to learn how to live without Jesus physically present- and why it was necessary for Jesus to die and to go. Using today’s terminology, Jesus was preparing His disciples for reverse culture shock. Jesus knew He was going to die, so he begins to prepare His disciples for life after His death. It was going to be a new kind of life- life certainly wasn’t going to go back to how it used to be. It would be different, very different, and nothing like the life they knew just a few years ago. Jesus continues “ I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.”(Verses 32-33 ) It would have been shocking for the disciples to even imagine that Jesus could die the death of a criminal, on a cross. This was all part of God’s plan, and here is Jesus preparing the disciples for the shock. So, too, Jesus is with us as we process the pandemic culture shock. Personally I have found that learning more of the language of lament helpful. Also I have discovered that to think about and reflect on 2020 is very helpful and healing. As part of our annual cycle, this week I wrote a piece about the year for our Annual report. For me this was a very helpful exercise- trying to remember and make sense of a topsy-turvy year. It’s worth taking some time out to think/pray about last year. The reverse culture shock of easing pandemic restrictions is just starting. Schools are experiencing this first. Pupils and staff are extremely tired due to this shock……school isn’t what it used to be. Changes in exams, changes in tests, changes in routines and bubbles, changes at home due to work/life. No wonder exhaustion is rife among school staff and students/ pupils right now! (It’s great to hear that we are giving Easter eggs to local pupils and daffodils to staff.) Those not in education will experience this later as things open up- I can’t wait for a haircut- I hope hairdressers haven’t changed too much! Things have changed eg people work from home, shopping is online, holiday travel/options are complicated…. We have changed and life has changed. We will all need time and space to process these new changes. So don’t be surprised if 2021 is like drinking champagne- some real highs in the Summer followed by a hangover later in the year, until we integrate these changes in life and move on. The good news is that Jesus still with us. Today Jesus is reminding us - God is with us in the changes of life, the highs and the lows. This is God’s word to us today. Jesus prepares the disciples for His death and beyond, and Jesus is with them as much as possible.Jesus prepares us, disciples today, for the changes ahead - those we know about and those we don’t know yet- and Jesus is with us as we go through 2021 and beyond. So, how do we respond? Keep processing in your mind what has happened these past 12 months, talk with others about it if possible. Also try to imagine how our personal or family life might be in the months ahead, the joys we anticipate, the problems that might flare up and how things could quickly change. Remember that Jesus is with us, ask Jesus to bring us realistic hope as we look ahead. What about Church life? it won’t be the same as it was, things have changed and are changing. Eg [email protected]/[email protected]/Lyfe/Zoom. Some will stay some will go or adapt. We will recover good things gradually eg communion bread first and one day wine, singing together, weddings. Please take time to think about these things Please take time to pray about these things The good news is Jesus being with us and preparing us for the changes ahead that we face. And may Jesus bring us healing and hope.
Church of England Diocese of Leicester Sapcote