There is scarcely a country in the world that is no locked down because of Covid 19. In the richest countries in the world we have a measure of space and it is usually possible to create isolation. Where people live in slums and shanties there is no hope of social distancing let alone robust self isolation. Africa has so far been relatively free of coronavirus, but that will change as soon as people can move around again.
The closure of businesses has had terrible repercussions for Tamale Diocese in the north of Ghana where I have many friends among the clergy. Working as they do on minimum wages, life is always a struggle for the priests there. But with the churches closed, no income is coming in, and there is no way for the diocese to pay the clergy a living wage. Thankfully, some money is arriving from friends across the world. I am reminded of how lucky I am living where I do when I look at this picture from my travels in Ghana.
Today’s Morning Prayer bible reading comes from Exodus and tells the story of Moses’ sister, a prophet called Miriam. I can see this print of Miriam dancing by Sieger Koger from my desk. Its vibrant colours imagine the desert journey that follows the parting of the Red/Reed Sea. Miriam is dancing with joy and relief – after months, maybe even years, of asking for their freedom, the People of God have crossed out of Egypt and into a journey towards the promised land.
For all the joy, we know the background. The Egyptian army, horses and riders, have been drowned; the wilderness years will be long and hard; entry into the promised land results in genocide; and to this day, the territory which became Israel is a place of destruction and war. This picture is complex. But today I’m seeing the Miriam who is happy, dancing with her friends in thankful celebration. Today I’m trying to leave the complexities aside and simply find some goodness for which I too will chose to be thankful.
Easter and an empty cross. We couldn’t add our own flowers in church this year, but our cross in the churchyard at Blockley is wrapped in the red ribbon that hung on the cross in Holy Week. There is something very fitting about using the blood red ribbon to tie together the jars of beautiful spring flowers.
Like the Godly Play story of the life of Christ, you can’t have death without life, Eucharist without the body and blood of Jesus, broken bread and spilled wine without the saving grace which calls us to the table. Life under lockdown feels like death for some, but there will be life again. At Bourton on the Hill, the crown of thorns has been replaced by a crown of flowers. Our lives will be resurrected. Christ is risen. Alleluia.
I wonder what has made you smile today? A plant flowering, the new leaves on a tree, a child’s laughter, a silly meme? Today I have been going through some of the photos I have taken over the last two weeks, and noticing small things that have given me pleasure.
Jesus talks about the power of small things. Faith as small as a mustard sees can move mountains. Anyone who is faithful in very little ways can also be trusted to be faithful in important ones. In these days, we can ‘do’ very little, but small actions speak volumes about love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Thank goodness that against such things there is no law!
You have to look carefully to see this fragile palm cross made from grass. I found it yesterday, Palm Sunday, tucked into the bars of my gate. This little grass cross is drying out, shrinking and curling as it does. It symbolised a little of what I am experiencing in the C19 lockdown.
As usual I am experiencing a hundred emotions a day. But usually I can mitigate those emotions by action. If I’m sad I call on someone who will either cheer me up or distract me. If I’m angry or hurt, I stomp around grumbling and there is no one to hear me and be affected by sharing my pain. If I’m bored I get and out and do something, and because I’m an extrovert, usually I do it with someone else. You get the idea!
But now I’m newly fragile. If I sound off, my family get caught up in the emotion; if I try to drown my emotion in work, I’m at a loss as to what to do; if I try to contain how I feel, it sometimes spills over and it is my family who are forced to bear the weight of it.
Thank you to the person who left my little palm cross, a symbol of my and Jesus’ fragility. Thank you for showing me that life is about small gestures, little actions, stepping gently around each other, being gentle with myself as well as the people closest to me. Simple is better; maybe it is even the best cure for lockdown.
The first Christmas after I married Adrian my new father-in-law gave me a present. He always bought his wife and daughter Roger and Gallet soap, and for me he chose Rose. I’ve always found soap to be a bit problematic. It dries out my skin causing it to crack or itch. But this soap was a revelation to me – I can use it (in small amounts) without any problem. In fact, since he died, I have continued to treat myself to a box ofRoger and Gallet Rose soap every Christmas in James’ memory.
Today soap has become a life-saver. Covid 19 doesn’t just dislike soap – it is exterminated by it. Soap is made of molecules; one end of each molecule attracts water and the other end attracts fats and proteins. The attraction of the fat-loving end to the molecule surrounds the fat around the virus. Then the virus is pulled apart by the water loving end which is repelled by the fat. Amazing science and the extraordinary ability of nature to heal itself.
But it takes time for the soap to pull apart the virus – 20 seconds of Amazing Grace, the Lord’s Prayer or God save the Queen should do it. No matter what sort of soap we use, be it ever so posh or very simple, when we wash our hands we are enabling a nano-battle which will ultimately save the human race from Covid 19.
I’m looking up at the Blockley church tower. It is photographed by thousands of tourists and Father Brown fans each year, and symbolises the permanence of the church building for me. But then I remember that it was rebuilt in the 1730s after the Norman tower fell down in 1725. It looks like it will stand here forever; but nothing is on earth is forever.
In Jerusalem, archaeologists exploring under the Western Wall came across a huge block of stone weighing 600 tons. It turned out to be one of four vast blocks, a master course of stone designed to stabilise the building when the Temple was extended by Herod. The builders thought they were creating a building that would stand for thousands of years. Yet only 70 years later the whole temple was torn down by the Romans as punishment for Israeli rebellion.
As Christians we believe that God’s ‘temple’ was in the person of Jesus, God with us. A building is temporary, even one that stands for aeons. God reminds Job in an Old Testament parable that God was present at the beginning of time, and will be there beyond human existence. Where is the church now that the church building is closed? It is present in the person who has faith in that God/man, Jesus Christ.
The village communities of which I am part are pulling together for the common good. They are offering deliveries of shopping and medicine as well as keeping an eye out for vulnerable neighbours and friends. People who didn’t know their neighbours a week ago are suddenly either serving or being served.
The Russell Spring in Blockley is testament that altruism is not unique to this time, but runs back through history. Lucy Russell, a local farmer, brought 5 springs together in a free-flowing stream which never stops, no matter how dry the summer. The water is clean and fresh, abundant and plentiful, and free to anyone who needs it.
And on the edge of the shelf above the spring is a Blockley Rock, painted by one of our children for other children to find, treasure and maybe re-hide. Altruism doesn’t have to be utilitarian: it can be an act of joy for its own sake. Love in action.
I was thinking this morning about Easter, and reflecting on how much has changed since Christmas. Back in December we didn’t know about CV-19 and it would have been inconceivable to imagine people stock piling toilet rolls.
At the Christmas carol service at Bourton on the Hill, our youngest church member brought one of her soft toys, an octopus who I seem to remember was called Ollie. Ollie joined the shepherds in the crib to worship the new-born Christ-child. It’s a bit odd to see a cephalopod worshipping baby Jesus, but one of the things I have learnt as a vicar is to expect the unexpected.
God comes to us as a baby, as a breath of wind, in the face of a stranger., in the beauty of love. God comes to us, even when we don’t expect it, especially when we don’t expect it. Jesus walks out of the dark mouth of a hungry tomb; Jesus breaks free of death in the most extraordinary, unexpected way. Easter is coming!