Church of England Diocese of Guildford Dunsfold


24 Mar 2021, 4:15 p.m.
Church_news Easter Lent Notices

In 1552 a special prayer was added to the Prayer Book, asking for God’s pity and the withdrawal of the plague. In 1603 ministers were instructed to shorten their services because of the danger of keeping people in ‘thick and close assemblies’. In 1625 royal orders were issued to clergy that church services should only be held in places that were ‘free and safe from infection’, and that those coming from infected areas should be excluded from churches and asked to worship at home. In 1720 the government imposed a 40-day quarantine on all ships coming from affected ports.

It’s curiously comforting, from time to time, to get a historical perspective on a current crisis, and I’m grateful for this one to the journal of the Prayer Book Society. It somehow reminds us that the word ‘unprecedented’ is seldom strictly accurate, however much we like to use it; rather that, as the grumpy author of the book of Ecclesiastes puts it, ‘There is nothing new under the sun’.

As we move through Passiontide, though, and approach the bitter-sweet rigours of Holy Week, how good to remember a glorious exception to the grumpy author’s rule. For the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was indeed unprecedented, something genuinely ‘new under the sun’, indeed the ultimate ‘new thing’ to which the prophet Isaiah was given real, if partial, access. As we look to the past, it enables us to see the pandemic from a fresh perspective, with lament and hope just two sides of the same coin. As we look to the future, it enables us join with Isaac Watts in worship of our ‘Help in ages past, our Hope for years to come’.

Bishop Andrew