Reflections for Sunday 10th May
This weekend, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE day, we remember with thanksgiving the sacrifices made by so many during the course of the Second World War for the freedoms that we continue to enjoy today.
Our VE day celebrations this year have, of necessity, been far more muted than the joyous celebrations of the first VE day when the streets were filled with those celebrating the end of almost 6 years of total warfare in this country and across Europe. Seeing the newsreel footage again of the crowds gathered outside Buckingham Palace, my dad asked me if I had spotted him as a 6 year old amongst the crowds celebrating with his parents (I haven’t spotted him yet!).
The second world war impacted almost every aspect of daily life even for those who were not directly involved or whose loved ones were not called up to serve in the armed forces – almost all of the necessities of life were rationed or hard to come by and for many there was the ever-present threat from air raids. The current Covid-19 pandemic is similarly impacting almost every aspect of our lives in all sorts of different ways, whether as a result of restrictions on our movements to a temporary or permanent loss of employment. Although supplies have not been rationed in the same way as they were during the war, some basics have been hard to come by and I was delighted when I finally managed to buy some plain flour this week for the first time since the lockdown began!
Hopefully we will begin to see the first steps towards relaxation of some of the Covid-19 restrictions announced this weekend although it would be unwise to expect that they will be anything other than very limited, certainly with the daily death toll remaining as high as it is. It is unlikely that a resumption of church services will be included amongst these initial measures so we must remain patient for a few weeks yet.
For many these are deeply troubling times as were the years of the second world war and our gospel reading for this week (John 14:1-14) is very appropriate – beginning as it does with the call “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going”.
We may not be at risk from invasion by enemy forces or even from air raids but there remains the ever-present risk of infection with the Covid-19 virus and whilst for many the symptoms can be quite mild, for many they are far more serious or even fatal. Beyond this, none of us quite know how we will come out of lockdown, what the new normal will be like or what the long-term impact will be on our daily lives.
As Christians, we can take comfort from Jesus’ words to his disciples as he was preparing them for the tumultuous events of the first Easter when he would be forcibly taken from them as he was first arrested and then crucified and buried before being re-united with them on the first Easter Day.
One of the most basic human needs is the need for shelter (along with things like food, warmth and water). This fundamental need was recognised by Abraham Maslow in his famous paper identifying the hierarchy of needs published in 1943 which some of you may be familiar with. Although this most basic human need may first have been formally described in an academic paper dating from the middle of the 20th century, the need for shelter and the safety and security that this brings has been a characteristic of mankind ever since God first placed man on the surface of the earth. Jesus, speaking here almost 2000 years before Maslow wrote his paper recognises and addresses that need as He promises the disciples and all who believe in Him down the ages through to and including us, that he is going ahead to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house – to provide shelter for them and us for all eternity.
These words are very often used at funerals as they serve as a reminder of the promise of eternal life that we have in Jesus expressed in a way that speaks directly to us and which reminds us that Jesus will come to take us home to be with him.
This is all a bit much for Thomas (the same Thomas who later came to be dubbed ‘Doubting Thomas’) as he asks “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus responds with the 5th of his “I am” declarations as he tells Thomas “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.
Last week we considered the uniqueness of Christ and here Jesus again affirms his uniqueness as the only way to God the Father. Jesus goes on to affirm that in knowing Jesus we know the Father and through Jesus alone we can know God the Father once again. That is possible uniquely through Jesus because it is Jesus alone who paid the price for our sin and bore our punishment as he died on the cross so that we are freed from the consequences of our sin and wrong-doing (it would be unjust for anyone to be punished twice for the same offence and as Jesus has been punished for our sin, we cannot be punished for it a second time).
This is the great joy of the Easter message. Christ has born the price for our sins and in so doing we are set free and we can know the peace that comes from knowing that we have peace with God and that there is a room reserved for us in God’s eternal home when the time comes. So, despite all the turmoil and uncertainty, let our hearts not be troubled. As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome (a church that would go on to face fierce persecution under the Emperor Nero in particular), “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Hopefully we are drawing closer to the time when we will be able to meet together in church again, even in a very limited manner but until then, may the Lord bless us and watch over us, may the Lord make his face shine upon us and be gracious to us and may the Lord look kindly on us and give us peace. Amen
Can I please encourage you to continue to pray for the Queen (praying for her wellbeing and giving thanks for her message to the country on the 75th anniversary of VE day), for the Royal Family, for the Prime Minister and the government as they seek to set out the first steps out of the current lockdown – that they would do so wisely. Pray too for the church here and around the world as it continues to respond to the deep needs of the people and communities we minister to. Pray for our own churches – that we would continue to find new ways to minister to the needs of the parishes and for a speedy return to being able to worship together. Please pray too for Veronica and the family and for all key workers across the nation who are caring for those in need and maintaining essential services.
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