This week, and for the next three weeks, I want to use this column to offer some reflections on the lockdown. It seems to be a good moment to take stock. We’re back in the church building for public worship, but also learning fast that things are unlikely to return quickly, if ever, to the way they once were. It’s the holiday season with many, myself included, taking some time away from their normal responsibilities. Time, then, for a pause to ask ourselves what we have learned.
I begin with some thoughts about the painful privilege of prayer. Week by week during the lockdown I have offered a eucharist on behalf of the parish. It felt awkward at first, and it never came close to being the same sort of experience that we share as a congregation when we celebrate together. I worried about the unfairness of being permitted myself to receive Holy Communion while being forbidden from sharing it with anyone outside of my own household. Increasingly, though, I recognised it as a duty, and one in which prayers of intercession came to the fore. I may not be able to place the consecrated elements in your hands, but I could bring your needs, your sufferings, your isolation to the altar in prayer. As time went by, I came to experience an almost physical change of weight as I laid these burdens at the feet of Christ.
I describe this as a painful privilege. It is a privilege because as a priest I have that particular calling to sacramental ministry. It is painful because that ministry has had to be withheld from the people I am called to serve, the people whose needs I hold in my prayers. The people I love.
My prayers have not received the normal ‘Amens’, audible in person, of a church full of people affirming their agreement with my intercessory intentions. But they have not been solitary. As the hymn writer puts it, the voice of prayer is never silent, and in our community I know that to be true. Even as I have held you all before God in prayer, we have held each other, and I know that you have held me.
For everything there is a season, says the book of Ecclesiastes, and for every season, it seems to me, there is a prayer. For this season, I would argue the most apt prayer is one of the most ancient of all – Lord, have mercy. Kyrie eleison. It is our painful privilege in this time to cry out to God for mercy. Lord, have mercy on a broken and dying world. Lord, have mercy on a divided and bewildered church. Lord, have mercy on the sufferings of your faithful people. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.
May God bless you all,