Life seems very strange at the moment. Some of our parishioners are still working, some of them are working for the NHS and are working extremely hard so that the rest of us receive the care and attention that we need if we are ill. Many are suddenly finding that they have to work from home and others suddenly find themselves with no work. Those of us who are retired and over the age of 70 are being advised to self isolate especially if we have underlying health problems. None of us is supposed to be socialising; we can only go shopping for food or medicines and even if we go out for walks we have to keep our distance from all those we meet. As Archdeacon Martin said in the daily bulletin from the diocese of 31/03/20 “We are currently walking though uncharted territory. The terrain is rough, unlevel and hard to negotiate and the destination is unclear.”
To me the fact that all this is happening during Lent is making me feel that this year we are all experiencing Lent in a way we have never experienced before. We may not be fasting in the sense of giving up chocolate or whatever we usually “give up for Lent”. We are fasting in a completely different way. We are not able to take part in one of the Lent groups. We are not able to attend a church service. We cannot even go inside the church and pray privately. We are all experiencing the sense of deprivation, the sense of being without something that is precious to us. We cannot meet our friends. Many of us live alone and although we may not feel lonely in the way some elderly people who have no family and no friends feel lonely, we are experiencing a sense of isolation. It is also in a way quite claustrophobic and can cause a sense of panic as you wonder when this will all end. So it is a period of fasting but it is more like the experience Jesus had when he was in the wilderness. In a way we are all in a form of wilderness. We have never experienced anything like this before and it is frightening.
In amongst the fear and sense of isolation, there is goodness – people are communicating with each other, they are phoning or sending emails – checking that everyone is alright. People are offering to get shopping for neighbours and friends and generally being supportive. I am witnessing a sense of neighbourliness and caring that is growing. So out of that wilderness is coming love and caring.
In Alan’s sermon on Sunday he referred to the question of suffering. Jesus never told us it would be easy if we followed him. There was no expectation that we would be free of suffering. If people who were believers found themselves free of suffering and pain then everyone would become believers but for the wrong reason. They would only believe because of what they would gain. There is no love in that, no real indication of a real faith. It would not necessarily create a very pleasant world. Jesus taught us that we should love one another. Real love is not free of pain. When people suffer pain other people become more caring. So out of pain and suffering comes love and caring. God knows about pain and suffering and when we suffer, when we feel pain then God walks beside us. Maybe you have experienced this – I certainly have. I realise that I may be accused of over-simplifying the question of pain and suffering but I hope it makes you think about it.