I imagine that, like me, you are feeling a little anxious at the prospect of a winter filled with potential new restrictions as the 3 tier system kicks in across the country, and Londoners begins to learn how to live within Tier 2 restrictions from this weekend. The end we had all hoped for earlier in the summer – that ‘new normal’ we still long for – seems to be receding further from our grasp. At a time like this, how do we hold on to that sense of hope when the news is bleak and the future uncertain? Sometimes I find it helpful to re-visit the story of God’s ancient people, going back to a time when they too were struggling with a sense of unrest and uncertainty. When we consider the stories in the book of Exodus we hear about the Israelites packing up their old lives and travelling on in trust to an unknown future, a future which incidentally didn’t arrive for 40 years! But all through that long journey, as they learned to live through those wilderness years, they discovered how much they needed to depend on each other, they had to learn to trust and to be patient; sometimes they succeeded, sometimes they failed. The biggest lesson they learned was that the more they trusted God and the more faithfully they lived in his presence, the brighter the light at the end of their tunnel shone. Thinking about those ancient Israelites and the journey they made into the unknown prompts me to think about the experiences of the early Church too, probably because we have been reading the Acts of the Apostles at Morning Prayer for quite some weeks now. Those early disciples of Jesus, after the resurrection, left all they knew and stepped bravely into the unknown. Of course Luke tells his story in a way which smooths over the passage of time when in reality years passed by before the next great event happened. St Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus was a momentous life-changing event, but years passed before his ministry actually began.
We may feel that we are living through unprecedented times, but our current situation is nothing new for humankind. The Israelites, the early Church, and every generation since, has had to learn to live with the unknown, unable to be confident in any future planning. Life as it is today is more ‘normal’ than we think. Living with this current uncertainty, this unknown, is a great challenge for those of us who have lived all our lives with people telling us to make goals, map out mission, take control and live life to the full because the future is what you make it. Sadly, we now realise that we are not in control, the future is no longer mapped out in a way we thought it would be.
God gave some wise life-enhancing guidelines to those ancient people long ago, guidelines which Jesus reinforced and which shaped the early Church. Those very same guidelines give meaning, purpose and hope to the human race today: our first calling is to love God with our whole heart, and the second is to love our neighbour as we would like to be loved ourselves. In loving God we have nothing to fear as we shelter under the shadow of his mighty protective wings. St Paul reminds us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, not even death, and that gives us confidence to face the future with hope. In loving our neighbour we place ourselves and those God loves under that same shelter and that same promise. God journeys on with us through thick and thin, the light shining in our darkness and showing us the way, as we learn to care for one another and support and encourage one another. We do not live for ourselves, but for God and for each other. This is our normal, and it’s a very hopeful way to live, especially now.
Rev Anne Crawford