When the year started back in January, few of us could have imagined how the coming months would play out. As the summer turns to autumn, it appears that varying forms of the restrictions under which we have been living will continue for some time. As a nation we are heading into difficult times as the economy struggles, jobs are disappearing and we live with the fear of a spike of the virus in the coming months. We are also aware that church life as we have known it will be unlikely to return to ‘normal’ for some time.
In this context it is critical that we learn to drink deeply from the wells of our Christian faith more than ever. The God who made us and made the world, and who has come to us in Jesus Christ gives us faith to trust in his care for us, hope for the future however dark the days may be, and the inspiration to love our neighbours at a time when COVID-19 might make us view our neighbours as threats to health and wellbeing.
A part of Scripture that has been on my mind recently is the small letter of Jude. It was written towards the end of the first century at a time when the church was facing challenges of various kinds. A short section towards the end of the letter seems to me to speak very clearly into our needs right now:
But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And be merciful to those who are anxious or doubting.
That advice, to ‘build yourselves up in your most holy faith’ speaks of the need for each of us to take responsibility to strengthen the faith we have and to draw on the wisdom of the past at this critical time in our national and church life, not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of the wider community, so we can bring to others the hope we find in Christ.
So how do we ‘build ourselves up in our most holy faith’? The letter mentions four things:
1. Pray in the Holy Spirit: the Holy Spirit prompts us to pray and our first calling as Christians is to do just that - for ourselves, our families, our neighbours and communities. If we are to build ourselves up in faith, we will need to be rooted in disciplined habits of prayer, as far as we are able, turning to God each day for our daily needs in a way that expresses our dependence and trust in him. Now may be a time for a renewal of our life of prayer, individually and corporately. You might contact your local parish to find times of prayer together either online or in person or find new ideas for prayer on sites such as https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/learning-pray or https://www.24-7prayer.com/helpmepray
2. Keep yourselves in the love of God: This world emerged out of the love that pulses at the heart of God and the privilege we have as Christians is to learn to live in tune with that love which we see in the face of Jesus Christ. We can be brought back to that love in different ways – through sharing in the Eucharist regularly, daily Bible reading, accessing sermons online, contemplation, enjoying God’s creation, listening to music, reading books or being active in the community. As we deliberately make time for these things, we need to allow this sense of the profound reality of the love of God for his world to seep into the rest of our lives, the way we view ourselves, others and even the ground on which we walk.
3. Look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. COVID-19 has brought us face to face with our own vulnerability and mortality. Our Christian faith tells us that sickness and death do not have the last word and tells us of the reality of Resurrection that we proclaim at every funeral, in every bereavement. All of our lives will come to an end one day, and at a time of uncertainty and fear, our Christian faith encourages us to look at death with the hope of eternal life.
4. Be merciful to those who are anxious or doubting. There are many around us, whether Christian friends, those of other faiths or none, who are anxious and fearful about their employment, their health, or their families. Of course we too share those anxieties, yet our faith is a resource that enables us to find reassurance for ourselves as well as offer it to others. Even if it is not possible to attend church physically as much as we would like, it is important to link in with others online at least, to be able to encourage others as much as to gain support ourselves. If you haven’t already, do contact your parish church to see what ways there are to connect with others, or schemes they have for getting involved in extending care and compassion in the wider community.
This is a time for the church to hold out the hope we find in Christ, but we can only do that if our own lives are deeply rooted in him. My prayers are daily with you as we go through this time of uncertainty, that we will rise to the challenge of these days as the Christian church across our part of London.