2020 is a year which everyone who lived through it will remember. It will be remembered as the year when, coming from China, the crown-wearing Corona virus swept normality and certainty aside. Lives, and loved-ones, and livings were lost as governments locked us down, taking away our freedom to meet, and to travel and to touch. To save lives we were required to ‘stay at home’ and to ‘stay safe’ as our churches, schools, shops and places of work were directed to close. Fear replaced freedom and isolation the warmth of gathering as community.
New technologies were adopted overnight by families fearful of losing the freedom to connect with those they love. Laptops, and tablets and phones were balanced against cushions and coffee cups so that the smiles of those we miss the most might be seen, and conversation became the sound of disconnected voices, one moment loud the next an echo, trying not to speak at the same time, wondering what the other person was looking at.
We differ in our response to disasters. Some innovate and adopt new ways, adapting to the change forced on them, others cling to and strive to restore what was before. Perhaps we are all a mixture of the two. The innovators recorded themselves speaking, and playing and singing and for a while YouTube and Facebook became the destination for ‘time together’ as we sat alone, or in family groups, watching familiar faces in unfamiliar rooms, and hoping that because we had all seen the same thing, we were ‘together’ in some way. We all missed what we had taken for granted only moments before. We all wondered; ‘could’ and ‘should’ things ever get back to how they had been.
We believe in a God who is ultimately in control of all that he has created. Though the actions of people, and of powers and authorities may work against his will, God is still in control. Equally, if he sees all things, knows all things and is all powerful, then nothing that has happened has come as a surprise to him. We might even say that, even though we may not understand what is happening, the events that we are experiencing are a part of his plan, as his word tells us that God works all things together for good.
One thing is certain, life is different now. In the words of the song, we’ve had a little time to think things over, we’ve had a little space to consider life and its priorities. What we have missed most is being able to meet with our families and those who we are most connected to. We have missed the reassurance of watching the faces of the people we ‘do life together with’. But we have also come to notice the value of the’ standing together with’ and the ‘helping each other out’ that can only be experienced with those who live nearby, whose homes we have walked past, who queued with us outside the same shops.
The needs of our neighbours and our concern for our communities have reminded us that we are not just watchers in this world, seeing life through our screens. We are participants, there are things we can do that do make a difference. We have value, not least because we are the people who live next door, or down the street. The government may have the power to bring the country to a standstill, but we can buy a bag of shopping for a neighbour, we can stop in the street and with warm words, bring a smile to a lonely face.
2000 years ago, a Jew who became known as Joshua Messiah, went about doing good. He spoke with the people he met in the street and the market place. He joined with his household, his relatives and friends and he touched lives. Though he sometimes spoke to large crowds he preferred a quiet chat, face to face with those he chose to do life together with, his family members and friends.
He spoke of the value of helping each other out, he provided food for his neighbours and, to the amazement of everyone who encountered him, he reached out and touched the isolated, the excluded and the hurting with his healing and his hope. His presence was magnetic, he drew people to him and he caused those who were drawn to him to be drawn to each other as filings cling together on the pole of a magnet. He called this, ‘being one with each other’ and the force that drew them, his ‘peace’.
His legacy and his life live on. His healing, his hope and his peace are needed more today than ever before. Not only do our sick bodies need his healing but more than anything our sick communities need his peace. So perhaps before we rush back to our cars and commutes, before we fill our calendars again with last year’s agenda, perhaps it is time to adapt our practices and adopt a different way of being.
In a world where large gatherings have become connected more with contamination than with community and where our freedom to sing together and socialise is restricted by government regulation maybe it is time to ask a different question. Perhaps our, ‘when will we be able to go back to church?’ should become our, ‘what can we do to be church today?’ When the public meeting places were closed to the followers of Joshua they met instead in small groups in public places and people’s homes.
In small groups, everyone has a place, everyone can contribute and everyone can receive. We can start simply, focusing our time and energy on doing what we can, with what we’ve got, where we are. We can open our own homes and our lives to each other. We can be community. In small groups relationships will grow, and our family, friends and neighbours, will come to share in the legacy of Joshua, his healing, his hope and his peace.
For now, to me, this sounds like somewhere to start. Who knows, in time our small might become the new big!
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Before you invite people into your home or visit someone else’s home please check that you are following the current guidance on ‘Social Distancing’ and any local public health ‘lockdown’ restrictions.