Worshipping together at a good distance – 17 May
17 May 2020
God of our finite selves, God of our inward life:
© 2020 The Corrymeela Community
I will not abandon you, Jesus says. I will not leave you behind.
In our present circumstances, these come as words able to help us fend off the demons that come to us in the dead of night, haunting us with the voices that continue to tell us we are not doing terribly well, questioning our ability to cope, and hinting that we are not the people we thought we were. They do not owe their existence to the coronavirus, those demons, but the pandemic has certainly given them a new playground.
And yet resistance to their persuasive powers begins with a truthful admission of where we are. The word confinement at its root means the place where two borders, two edges, two limit places, come together. I quite like the image those roots suggest. In our relative confinement, we are people coming to the edge of ourselves, together. And there is some solidarity in that: the shared recipes, as well as the shared admission of our daily shortcomings; the humour, and the grief; the compromises, and the queues.
But at a deeper level we are like the apostle Thomas who said: Lord, we don’t have a clue where you are going. How on earth can we know the way? We may be people on a shared journey to the edge of ourselves, but we, no more than Thomas, know the way. And we do wonder, sometimes, in the face of ever-changing uncertainties, whether this is in our capacity to do. Whatever this is.
The gospel reminds us, however, that when we are pulled up short by our own finitude, good news may come not as the end to our confinement, but as the One who will accompany us through it. I will not abandon you, Jesus says. I am coming to you. Jesus will ask, and the Father will send, the Spirit of truth. Who will be our Advocate. Literally, the One called to your side. The one who reminds us who we really are, and who we are as a church, even now.
Now the language of John’s gospel can be head-spinning, but once you get into the rhythm, think of it as being more like a musical composition, Variations on a Theme of Love. Because who we are is who we are in relation to one another.
God loves Jesus, it begins, and so, being loved, Jesus trusts God. Trusting in God for what is to come, Jesus loves us. And we, being loved, trust Jesus for what is to come, and are able to take the risk of loving one another. Which is also to love God, and entrust to God the risks of love. And so it goes, on and on. It is the music which plays at the heart of creation.
All of which means that the commandment Jesus himself gives us, to love one another, is not a demand, although it can be demanding. It is an invitation to become instruments of this music ourselves.
Now none of this will necessarily signal an end to our confinement in any obvious or immediate way. But it does significantly alter what we see in front of us. Whatever practical decisions, whatever re-structuring of our church life, whatever changes in our personal circumstances lie ahead of us, the future is a variation on a theme of love and trust, playing at the heart of creation.
And if we still sometimes find ourselves fending off demons, perhaps the best advice we can give ourselves is: Take notes. We will need to remember these days, for like all days, they contain gifts, even if they are gifts we did not ask for.
And: Pay attention. For in times of confusion and chaos, the Spirit roams widely. And if, later on, we find we missed something, or have trouble making sense of our notes, we have an Advocate, One called to our side, who will guide us into the truth we need. Who will speak to us, forever, of who we are, in the risen Jesus, in the music.
And to God alone be the glory.
Reflection © 2020 Christ Church Sandymount
Many thanks to Deirdre Farrell