Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I write to you in difficult times.
“God is our strength and refuge, a present help in time of trouble,
therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way”
The Psalmist writes these words in the midst of war and trouble. I often sing the words of Psalm 46 on Remembrance Sunday which Richard Bewes, the rector of All Souls Langham Place, set to the stirring music of the Dambusters’ March. Those of us who have lived longest can give the most compelling testimony that “God, the Lord of hosts is with us, evermore,” that God’s faithfulness to us has carried us through all of life’s crises, our own personal crises, those of our families and friends, those of our nation and even our world. He is the one who “breaks the bow and shatters the spear” of the enemy that we face. He is our heavenly Father in times of peace and times of turmoil
Two things are clear. Never has a virus spread around the world so quickly, aided by the very transportation systems that have helped bring the world closer together. Yet never have we had such capable resources intellectually and practically to fight it. Our prayers are with all those who are suffering, particularly for those who have been bereaved and those on the frontline trying to help those who are most vulnerable and unwell. Our prayers are also with those whose decisions, research and wisdom will help stem the tide of infections and hold the promise of returning our world to a way of life that just weeks ago we could take for granted.
Rodney Stark writes in his book “The Rise of Christianity” how the early church did not follow the Roman tradition of leaving the sick and dying in a city on their own and wait elsewhere until the disease had subsided. Christians moved towards the sick and the dying, often at great personal risk, tending to the sick and helping many to recover who, without their help, would have died. Not only did the survivor’s have reasons to ponder why these followers of Jesus of Nazareth has stayed behind to help them but both they and their carers might now carry some immunity that would help them in future epidemics.
Perhaps during this time we might as a church rediscover something of their courage, even in the face of suffering and death. I have been reflecting in recent days on God’s protection of Israel. Did God protect Israel? Yes. Did Israel experience hardship? Yes, and often hardship that flowed from them being God’s chosen people. Did Israel always have a sense of God’s protection? Read the Psalms, often the lament goes up that the righteous suffer and wicked prosper. As it was with Israel so it is with us. As it was with Israel so it was with Jesus. In our mission to share the good news of Jesus’ love we are called to take up our cross daily. “Be still and know that I am God.” In the midst of the chaos we are called to turn aside for a moment and be refilled with the Holy Spirit, re-orientated to his love and purpose, reshaped into his likeness. Recently I have started using an app called Lectio 365. It is produced by the people behind 24-7 prayer and it has been a great help to me finding space between the bewildering change of every routine and the relentless torrent of news.
“There is a flowing river within God’s holy city, God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.”
In some ways our lives are unrecognisable as we come to terms with restrictions that we have not experienced in our lifetime. Yet in the midst of this enforced isolation for some and the daily confronting of risk and danger for others, God is still with us, Jesus is risen and his Holy Spirit has all the resources of love, courage and strength that we will need to face the days ahead.
As a Presbytery we are seeking God’s help as to how we respond. Church services have been cancelled but some of our congregations will be streaming and recording their services online. Graham Duffin and the Congregational Development Team have been working to make sure everyone knows what resources are available and to try and assist congregations to rethink how they continue their life and mission within the current restrictions. And though we will not meet as a Presbytery for the foreseeable future we will find ways of making sure the local church is resourced and supported through this time.
God is our strength and refuge, Jesus is risen and our hope is in him. Even in midst of this crisis. This is his church, we are his family and he will care for us,
yours in Jesus’ love,
Gorebridge Parish Church.