I am writing this pastoral letter to you just after the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the USA. I must confess I write with a sense of relief that nothing untoward occurred during the proceedings. I must confess also that the ceremony and the President’s speech gave me a sense of hope for the future especially with the strong Christian message that was coming from the podium. I believe he and his wife attended Mass before the ceremony. You will find elsewhere in the magazine a reprint of the Queen’s Christmas speech which was couched in strong religious sentiment. It is encouraging to see those in high position speaking in this way and it does give one a sense of hope for the future.
The question is: what is the Church saying at this time? What message are we as a community sending out in this period of enforced lockdown of St Margaret’s? I have just finished Tom Wright’s very readable and concise book God and the Pandemic. Tom notes in pages 60-61 that “tears, locked doors and doubt seem to go together. Different ways of saying similar things. Together they sum up a lot of where we are globally at the time I’m writing this. Tears in plenty, of course: so many lives cut short. Locked doors: well, precisely. The fear isn’t just of certain people who may have it in for us; it’s a larger, more nebulous fear that every stranger in the street might, without knowing it, give me a sickness which could kill me within a week. I might be able to give it to them, as well. So: lockdown. And like a weed growing between the weeping and the lock-down, there is doubt: what’s this all about? Is there room left for faith, for hope? If we are locked away from all but a few, any room for love? These are hard and pressing questions.
They are the kind of questions the Church ought to be good at answering. At answering not just verbally (who’s listening, anyway?), but symbolically.
If the earliest disciples found Jesus coming to meet them in their tears, fears and doubt, perhaps we can too.
What, in particular, might it mean to say that ‘as Jesus was to Israel, so the Church should be for the world’?
As we saw earlier. John’s Gospel displays the signs that Jesus was doing. These were not things like earthquakes or famines, plagues or floods. They were not meant to frighten people into submission or belief, or to warn them that the world was coming to a shuddering halt. They were signs of new life, of new creation. They were signs of God coming into the ordinary and making it extraordinary. Coming to bring healing to a world of sickness. Giving bread to the hungry; sight to the blind; life to the dead. They were signs that the world was coming into a new springtime. A new beginning.
In the upper room, Jesus was commissioning his tearful, fearful, doubting followers to do the same.
And so they did. Right from the start. In Paul’s very first letter he tells the Galatians to ‘do good to all people, especially those of the household of faith.’
The outside world couldn’t believe it.
Tom is convinced that right now as the Church seeks to witness in the pandemic then our strongest witness can be that of lament. Lament is sorrowful prayer and it tries both to give vent to and also understand the grief. There is much to grieve about just now. We know what lament, coronach, means in Scotland. You just have to listen to a lone piper playing The Flooe’rs o’ the Forest!
We have recently been praying for a lot of departed and for them I decided to sing a Requiem Mass in Church. I must confess that after that I felt a lot better not only about the late lamented but also about the state of the world at the moment. We are good at St Margaret’s at Holy Week Liturgy and also Requiem Masses. There is something about these liturgies that are not only cathartic but also they express hope.
After all this is over there has to be a new way of doing things. The world cannot just simply slip back to the way things were. We have to care more about one another, show greater concern for the world’s poor and underprivileged, care about those languishing in refugee camps, work for the planet and seek a better use of the world’s resources and end greed and exploitation. Be concerned for our carbon footprint and remember that we share the planet with a lot of fantastic creatures big and small. To use the imagery of St Paul in Romans we have to hold a vision and the current reality side by side as we groan with the groaning of all creation, and as the Spirit groans within us so that new creation may come to birth. As we hopefully soon re-open and look to the future our Faith Communities have to try and influence a new way of doing things… a new direction.
I look out from the lounge window at the Rectory and outside through the frozen ground little shoots of green are appearing…spring is coming…a new creation!
Kindest Regards, As Aye,