God of love, passionate and strong, tender and careful: watch over us and hold us all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
There are a lot of messages out there at the moment saying variations of “do not be afraid” – “do not fear” – and much worse “keep calm and carry on”.
But in the middle of the greatest health emergency that our generation has known, with huge asks being made of the public and high risks being demanded of our public services, I want to say that it is OK to be afraid. It might even be the most sane thing you could feel.
It might even be Christ like.
We are in the season of Lent and we are soon to mark Maundy Thursday.
In the church calendar this is a time we remember an intimate meal with friends – where feet were washed as well as hands – and where Jesus knows that he is about to radically distance himself from those he loves precisely because he loves them – and not just those around the table but equally those outside the room.
And he is very afraid.
After the meal he sits in a garden alone and prays – he asks his friends to pray a little distance from him. He is so afraid he sweats blood, a sign of extreme anxiety. What is ahead of him seems too much. It is overwhelming. He begs for the cup of suffering to be taken from him.
But the disciples fall asleep and God does not answer his prayer.
Instead soldiers come. Arrest him. Beat him. Mock him. Crucify him.
Even as the Son of God he had good reason to be afraid.
No one should have told him otherwise – his fear was valid – and his fear carried its own courage. For courage and fear are not binary but so often the same thing – two sides of a single coin. It is even possible to argue that you can not have real courage without having first felt real fear.
There is currently a twitter thread with the hashtag – #HighRiskCovid19
People on that thread are being incredibly brave and afraid at the same time. These are just a few of their stories, asking us to “stay home and save lives”.
My baby with #downsyndrome and I are both #immunocompromised. He has a congenital heart defect and we both have hypothyroidism. Please consider our young lives and take #SocialDistancing seriously. #HighRiskCovid19 #COVIDー19
2 years ago, I was diagnosed with chronic asthma after being in the hospital for a week while my lungs were shutting down. I am immunocomprimised. In a month, I’m marrying my best friend and love of my life. Please do what you can and help me make it there. #HighRiskCovid19
I’m nearly 60, have Inflamed lungs (with nodules), Asthma and Diabetes. I’d like to live long enough to receive my bus pass. #HighRiskCovid19
I’m immunocompromised — I have 2 autoimmune diseases (Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease). Both of my boys also have celiac disease. Our lives count. We look 100% healthy. But we are #HighRiskCovid19 Please think about us before you break social distancing.
Many of you will have your own stories that are just like these – and some of you have been sharing them as I have called this week. It is because we love you, and love those like you, that we are suspending public worship. If we are to protect vulnerable people and our NHS we have to do all we can to limit social contact and shared space. It is an act of great sacrificial love to close our doors – putting community above our own need – but I believe it is absolutely necessary and our faith is strong enough to endure it; I believe God is powerful enough to transform it for good.
And whilst we shut the doors we do not shut the church – the church remains alive every time you pray, with every song of praise you sing and with every act of kindness you show. Let’s use this time to draw closer to God whether we are lying down in bed or standing in our shower, sitting in the garden or working at our desk. All of these places can become sanctuaries too if we let them, filled with the holy for the holy is not confined by the walls of a church, it is within us and everywhere in God’s world we seek it.
As I’ve reflected in this past week – I have seen a range of emotions and opinions voiced – but I have felt most deeply for those who like Christ in Gethsemane are afraid. And I wonder if we can be the people tasked, like the disciples, with praying from a distance? We might need to take it in turns – because I suspect we shall all have our brave and then fearful moments, fearful and then brave. But I wonder if we, remembering our own last meal we had with the Lord, can use the strength of that communion to help us stay awake at this important time?
It seems to me a very Lenten challenge to not sleep through what this pandemic is doing to some people – to not act and speak as if God always removes cups of suffering – he doesn’t. But he does promise to be with us. And we promise to be with you too. You are not alone in this.
In our Gospel for Mothering Sunday the thing Jesus feared is happening, he is on the cross and he sees his mother with one of his disciples watching from a distance and he says “Woman here is your son” and then to the disciple “Here is your mother.” At the foot of the cross we are all family. And as family we shall get through this together.
There is another part of this story – a rather wonderful ending – and the telling of that is just around the corner and hope is on the horizon if can still ourselves to wait in faith.
And as we do, I’ll take the first shift praying.