Messages of Hope

Entering ‘the last week’

Published / by Sandy

(Rev Sandy Boyce shared this witness for the 9.30am Palm Sunday service on 5th April 2020).

Our Lenten journey in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic feels somewhat dystopian. We are living in uncertain times. Lent seems ‘more Lenty’. The theme of ‘the wilderness’ seems more real this Lent, even from the safe confines of our homes.

The streets are empty here in my quiet suburban street, and in streets around the world. Tourist hot spots deserted. Animals venturing out and reclaiming some territory in the absence of humans. It’s all quite surreal.

Self-isolation and other measures will certainly help ‘flatten the curve’ in the battle against COVID19. We may be pre-occupied with our self-preservation, ensuring we stay well. At the same time as we keep ourselves safe, we hope others are doing the same, so that it will soon be safe for everyone. Otherwise, we risk this situation going on for months.

Some of us may relish self-isolation, to enjoy reading, crafts, gardening, catching up on jobs around the house and other activities. Some of us may feel isolation constrains our ‘rights’, and will be itching to regain freedom. Even those in 4 star hotels in Sydney bemoan their temporary enforced confinement. Perhaps the self-isolation suits some personality types more than others. There’s a call out to introverts to check on their extrovert friends, because they don’t know how to do this solitary thing. We need to look out for each other.

Self-isolation with families can be fraught with problems. Like the family at home with young children where a 3kg tub of honey was liberally spread around the house over ever surface, including the TV and computer etc. Not a happy ending!! Self-isolation also raises the stress for those living with domestic violence, and for children who cannot be at school which was the only safe place they had. There’s a lot happening behind those suburban front doors.

In this time of self-isolation and ‘social distancing’ there are also incredible acts of generosity and kindness. You’ve probably seen some of this in the media. You may have been on the receiving end of acts of kindness. You may have played your part in contributing to acts of generosity. Or you may have simply rediscovered what being neighbourly means. You may have seen how important it is to direct our energy to serve the common good. The late Margaret Thatcher, former PM in Britain, once famously said, ‘There’s no such thing as society’. And now the current British PM has said, ‘you know what, there is such a thing as society’. A revelation, that the fabric of a robust society is built on the common good, cooperation, collaboration and goodwill.

The reality of COVID19 has unleashed energy and fresh hopes and determination for how we might live together in our global village. It is interesting that the aspiration to preference the common good comes at a time when everyone is confined to home isolation. Maybe it’s like the whole world has been sent to their rooms to give some time to sort out better ways to act and behave with each other. This is the gift of liminal space – that time between what was and what will be. Thanks to COVID-19, normal is what was. It is gone and will be gone for quite some time. ‘Normal’ as we have known it may not return at all. As Greta Thunberg has astutely pointed out, ‘normal’ was already a crisis. We need a new way forward. One not based on competition and greed but on the common good, and the values and priorities of the reign of God. There needs to be a seismic shift in the way things happen after this period of confinement at home.

Each of us have to choose how we live in this liminal space, to find ways to occupy our time without work, sports entertainment and lists of things ‘to do’. It may be a time to develop spiritual practices. To take up new practices – or recover them. To be more intentional about being neighbourly. To make more phone calls to friends and family.

Despite being physically separated, together we can embrace our shared humanity and the shared experience of facing the unknown together. As those who follow the Way of Jesus, our call is to open our lives to God in a way that is transformative, so that we lean towards empathy, compassion, justice, kindness, care and generosity.

Our 9.30am service of worship on Palm Sunday began with a song that Geoff Boyce wrote this week:

We are…We are the church where we are
We carry the Way in our hearts
Caring together, apart…
Free, Free for the fight for equality
The freedom to live life with dignity
That comes from a sharing humanity
This is our call, to be the #churchwhereweare.

We do not need to wait to regather in the church building to be the church, to live out our call to serve others, following the example of Jesus.

The empty streets in our neighbourhoods and citiies are such a contrast to the procession we know as Palm Sunday, with the colour and spectacle and noise, as people accompanied Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. Perhaps the only connection with the story is that the military was deployed to keep things in order. The might of the Roman army deployed to ensure their presence would keep the festive crowds under control and keep the peace. The Australian Army personnel deployed to help with logistics in a time of COVID-19.

Jesus entry into Jerusalem was a subversive counter-procession. Jesus had a different vision of what God’s reign should be. Not might and power, but justice and mercy. Not the sword and violence, but peace and well-being, healing and wholeness. Jesus entered Jerusalem with the quiet determination to stand for truth and what is right. It would inevitably bring him into confrontation with the authorities. That is the journey that unfolds in Holy Week, to the cross, and to risen life.

As we stand at the threshold of Holy Week,
what does this liminal time in self-isolation ask of you?

Let me finish with this prayer by Brian McLaren: “Spirit of Wisdom, Truth, and Peace, guide us through this difficult time, and help us to resist the temptation to dream nostalgically of the old normal we have lost. Instead, help us lean forward toward a new normal, a wiser and better way of life that is more in harmony with your love for all people and for all creation. Help us better understand and value our interconnectedness on this beautiful, fragile planet. Empower all who serve the common good, encourage all who suffer, and expose all who mislead, whether through ignorance, greed, fear, or malice. Give birth to a new generation of moral leaders around the world, moral leaders who are guided by a just vision for the future rather than limited habits of the past … in our families and faith communities, in our cities and states and nations, and around this interconnected world, for the good of all. Amen.”