Psalm 42; Luke 17:11-19
2nd Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 13.06.2021
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Tomorrow, the government is set to announce the next stage on the easing of Covid restrictions. We’re still not quite sure what will be announced: it could be a simple postponement of an announcement for another few weeks to see how the Delta variant pans out; it could be a re-tightening of some restrictions. It could be a total lifting of all restrictions. We just don’t know. And it may be that not even the government knows yet either.
But with an announcement of some sort due tomorrow it seems an appropriate time for us to pause and reflect on our experience of the last 15 months, to reflect with the eyes of faith on what we have been living through.
CPAS (the Church Pastoral Aid Society) produced a few months ago a simple guide to help such reflection, and I will draw upon it in this sermon. But I will also send it out to all of you after the service (in fact it is scheduled to land in your email inboxes at about 10.50, so if you want to look at it straight after the service, or as soon as you get home, you can). It is something to read and use to help your reflection. As we reflect on the last 15 months, we may be prompted to give thanks, to lament, to learn and to pray.
Your initial response to talk of the pandemic nowadays, if you are anything like me, may be one of weariness: “Really? Do we have to think about this again?” Some of that weariness may be because it has gone on so long, longer than any of us had perhaps anticipated; and some of it may be because we have had a number of false dawns, moments when we had hoped things were at an end, only for a new wave to push us backwards again. And tomorrow’s announcement may feel like that for some of us.
However, there is a place in all this for thanksgiving. St Paul encourages us to give thanks “in all circumstances”, not because all situations are good, but because even in the worst of situations, there can still be things to be thankful for. God’s presence, God’s light has not been totally extinguished, even when it can feel like that at times.
And over these 15 months there have been some remarkable things that we can give thanks for. As I thought about it this week, these were the things that came to my mind: the way neighbours have looked out for each other; the way technology has enabled us to stay connected, and even to worship together – who would have thought 18 months ago that all our services would have been streamed on the internet? (It has been a lovely experience for me to know that every week my parents, living 100 miles away, have been able to join us as a family in worship each week); the dedication and sacrifice of many of our frontline workers; the glorious weather during that first lockdown; the way people have kept in touch with each other, and new friendships have been formed, and others have been renewed; the remarkable speed with which vaccines have been discovered and rolled out.
In our Gospel reading, of the ten lepers healed, only one came back to give thanks to Jesus, and the implication of Jesus’ words is that they alone were fully healed. The others had been physically restored, but the healing of the heart occurs with thanksgiving and gratitude. As we reflect on the last 15 months, let us be thankful for the good things we have experienced. Do take time to reflect, and ask yourself: “what am I thankful for?” Its an important discipline for us.
To be thankful does not deny, however, that these last 15 months have been hard and difficult. I know that for many, these last 15 months have been some of the hardest times they have experienced. It is important that we are honest before God, that we share with him our hurts, pain, losses and frustrations. Any loving parent longs for their child to tell them how things really are, not to bottle it all up inside. And how much more so is that of God with us. He wants us to be open with him.
For some of us, that level of honesty with God comes easily. We feel we can pour it all out to God, we can complain and air our hurt and frustration. For others of us, we may find it more difficult, unsure of how appropriate it is for us to speak to God in such a way. If we find it difficult, the words of many of the psalms can help us, words hugely honest and yet also considered fitting to be part of the hymnbook of God’s people. Take Psalm 42 that we heard this morning, a psalm that could almost have been written for these Covid times, the Psalmist despairing that it has been so long since he was able to meet together with others to worship: “When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night… I remember how I used to go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God… my soul is downcast within me…”
It is right that we acknowledge before God those things and people we have lost: loved ones who have died, and for whom mourning has been made harder than it already would have been by restrictions; mourning the loss of time with family and friends, when we may feel their time or our time is beginning to draw to a close; mourning the loss of holidays and trips to special and beautiful places that refresh our souls; mourning the loss of community; mourning the loss of singing in worship; mourning the loss of activities that renew us and invigorate us; mourning the loss of work. It is right and appropriate that we bring all of this to God, that we lay it at his feet, and ask him to help us with the load. I wonder what are the things that you need to bring before God today.
Thanksgiving. Lament. And Learning. One of the great themes of the Christian faith is redemption, bringing hope and good out of the worst of situations. For us, as we look back on these difficult 15 months, where might there be good to emerge – what can we learn – about God, ourselves, our lives? How can we do things differently. I’m not always a big fan of popular slogans but I do find the phrase “Build Back Better” that has been used a lot in recent months helpful. We don’t want to just return to how things were. We want to learn from this experience, and return to a place that is better.
I remember during the first lockdown delighting in not having to run from one activity to the next, being forced to slow down, taking deeper, slower breaths, being given permission to step off the treadmill, to appreciate the present. And yet I feel in my self the busyness of activity already beginning to make that greater space a distant memory. How do I learn from the positives of that experience? How do I allow it to shape my choices going forward? There may be other things too. The time spent chatting with neighbours across the garden fence, or with friends on the phone. The time saved by not having to commute to work that could be invested in relationships at home (though how quickly that saved time gets absorbed by just working longer hours). The gains made for the environment by less journeys and less plane travel.
God calls us to be part of building his kingdom, making a better world. What can we learn from these last 15 months that can help us play a part in that work. How can we do things differently, do things better, going forwards. Take time to reflect on that today.
The final part of the CPAS reflection sheet that I will send out is an encouragement to pray. In response to our reflections, we may find that there is much to give thanks for, much to be open to God about, and much to pray about as we look to the future. We will be doing that as part of our Church Prayer Meeting this evening, and so you may want to join us for that; and we will be doing that as part of our intercessions in a few moments time.
Amidst the turbulence of the last 15 months, God has remained our rock, our source of strength and stability. Let us place our faith in him as we give thanks, lament and learn from these last 15 months.