Over the last few weeks I have been using this column to explore some ‘lessons of the lockdown’. I began by reflecting on the painful privilege of prayer. A fortnight ago I shared some thoughts about the importance of places and things in our spiritual lives. Last week, my observations centred on the way in which crisis brings out both the best and the worst in human nature, and on the need for the love of God in Christ to overcome our fear. In this fourth and final reflection, which accompanies the sermon in this weekend’s e-Church my theme is the need to keep Christ at the centre.
This seems obvious, in a way. What, after all, is the point of being a Christian, or belonging to a Christian church, if one ignores Christ? Yet it is also obvious that Christian people and Christian churches have a peculiar susceptibility to distraction. That has always been the case, but my impression is that the Covid crisis has aggravated this tendency. Christians have always been tempted to give more energy to winning arguments and defeating enemies than to loving their neighbours, but the pandemic has exposed our fractious factionalism in a new way. We have always been at risk of paying more attention to our financial problems and organisational models than to the ‘still, small voice’ of God’s Holy Spirit, but the present troubles have redoubled this problem.
The problem occurs whenever we imagine that our role is to make amazing things happen for God, rather than to allow ourselves to be the people in whom God does amazing things. This is, unfortunately, a very easy mistake to make, and all the easier if we have an excess of confidence in our understanding of God. So it is that a willingness to allow God to surprise us turns out to be much more important than it might at first appear. As today’s Bible readings make clear, God often does things that we don’t expect. In my experience as much as in my theology, God still does.
When this truth really sinks in, we discover in a new way how essential all the lessons of the lockdown are. We pray, with a sense of painful privilege, because our need is overwhelming and prayer is the only thing that we can do with it. We furnish our lives with places and objects of spiritual significance because we need all the help we can get in placing Christ at the centre. We try to allow the love of Christ to conquer our fear because that is the only way that anything really changes for the better, that is the way (as a modern hymn puts it) that the Holy Spirit changes life by changing lives. We keep Christ at the centre of our attention, because to take our eyes of him is to sink beneath the waves of confusion, fear and despair.
May God bless you all,