Church of England Diocese of Birmingham Frankley

Welcome Back

28 Jun 2020, 1:30 a.m.

Will we ever be able to hug each other and share from the same cup again? As COVID 19 continues to work its way across the world and people are still dying here in the United Kingdom, it doesn’t look as if we will be getting back to normal soon.

Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin are death. Many have suffered and died because of the sins and mistakes of others. Prolonged isolation and fear is the price many are paying because others have failed to observe restrictions.

Hugs or more formal handshakes for those we don’t know well are needed more than ever. Those who have been isolated for more than three months now, need the reassuring, comforting touch of those who love and care for them. It has been hard avoiding hugging those who have lost loved ones recently as they have endured Spartan funerals.

Hugs bring healing and happiness. They make us feel good, reducing stress and showing support. They reduce our fear and pain and enable us to communicate more effectively. It has been said that we need four hugs a day for survival.

When we hug, we open our arms wide in welcome and love and draw others into the circle of our love and warmth.

In our present health crisis, however, touch has been banned. Hugs and handshakes can injure or kill. Because of the risk of infection, we must learn to show our welcome differently.

Even now, with lockdown coming to an end, we are only able to provide a bubble with another household

We’re expected to keep a 2 m distance, treat others as lepers and cover our faces with masks

We are not allowed to eat with neighbours and as Christians are not able to partake of Holy Communion together, worship at the same table and receive the welcome Christ gives to us in the form of bread and wine.

Welcoming one another into our homes, into our church and into our lives is important. It enables us to know that we are accepted unconditionally, valued and not alone

Welcome is an act of grace. We give hospitality even though we may receive nothing in return in this life.

I am blessed because I don’t live alone. The present situation must be horrendous for our elderly, mainly widows or widowers, particularly as many are unable to access zoom and do not have an internet connection.

Although we are now able to access are church building for private prayer, it is not the welcoming place it once was. We have to sign a book to show we are there and sanitize our hands on the way in and the way out, just in case we are carrying something that might infect others.

The soft furnishings and toy box has been removed, along with Bibles and hymn books.

We cannot light a candle for ourselves to remember our loved ones. We have to wait for the person on duty to light it for us.

Sometime during this month, when the Bishop’s guidance on how we are to proceed has been received, we will reopen for public worship on Sunday mornings. We will not be able to sing or receive Holy Communion but a service of Morning Prayer with social distancing will be possible. It will take some of you back to the times when Holy Communion was not the main service of the day and an occasional monthly tag on.

Our zoom services are encouraging but hardly inclusive as those without the relevant technology, (often the elderly and poorer members of our community) cannot join us. We cannot give an open invitation as interlopers are signing into zoom services to destroy them. I am happy, however, for you to invite your friends and families and give them the means to participate.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 10 that when we welcome followers of Jesus, particularly those who have been rejected or are outsiders, we are welcoming him and his heavenly Father who sent him. Hebrews 13:2 tells us that when we entertain strangers we may be entertaining angels without knowing it.

Jesus continues by saying that when we receive the message of a preacher of truth, we receive a prophet’s reward. When we welcome a righteous person in the name of a righteous person, in other words, when we are right with our Lord Jesus Christ ourselves and they are right and we do right together, we receive the reward of the righteous. Even giving someone a cup of cold water like Jesus did receives a reward.

Welcoming is costly. We know we are unlikely to receive financial reward in this lifetime. When we welcome others, however, we become rich in love, often getting to know others at a deep level. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Jesus shows his welcome to us by setting us free from all that has been sinful in our lives and giving us the gift of eternal life. We can welcome others as he welcomes us through welcoming unreservedly, and being willing to bear the costs.

So how do we welcome others when the hugs and hospitality we would normally give can kill?

A greeting in the street, a thumbs up, and a telephone call helps. Being trapped in gives us a chance to get our near neighbours over the garden hedge if we are blessed in having one.

Telling our nearest and dearest that we love them by whatever means are at our disposal raises both our spirits and theirs.

We can use our imaginations and memories to remind us of the welcomes and hugs we have enjoyed in our past, reliving them in our hearts and be thankful

Since we are unable to entertain in our homes or church hall, we can give generously to food banks and charities.

We can continue to remind ourselves and others of Christ’s welcome which transcends the boundaries imposed upon us. We can invite him into our hearts and minds, thank him for his love and use our imagination as we spend time with him, receiving the warmth of his welcoming hug and his gift of life.

Let’s continue to remember each other our prayers, find new ways to connect with others and keep other people’s interests uppermost in our mind.

Whether you come back to our church building for Sunday worship or continue to meet with others on zoom, I am always delighted to see or hear from you. Hugging physically is the wrong thing to do for the moment, but be reassured that you are welcomed from the heart.

God our saviour,

look on this wounded world

in pity and in power;

hold us fast to your promises of peace

won for us by your Son,

our Saviour Jesus Christ.