Today was the first time I celebrated the Eucharist with the doors closed. It was odd. For the first time we wanted nobody to com to church. That too was odd! In fact it was all a bit scary. Who would have thought a few weeks ago that we would be in this position? And fear does seem to be a major ingredient in the world of today. Just look at the way we stockpile toilet roll!
It is out of our control; that’s probably the worst thing. It seems to be happening a lot recently. Bush fires. Drought. And now this. We have learnt to rely on the stability of our first world culture - wealth, medicine, education, liberal values. And suddenly that culture gets hit by something that does not care how white middle-class you are; or whatever colour or class. It doesn’t care whether you have money or not; health insurance or not. It just IS and it is out of our control.
The great cry of the enlightenment, of secular humanism, is that we, as a species are progressing, and that we can mould our own destiny. We can control nature to serve us, and we know best how to do it.
Then our country burns. We have no water. We get sick. We realise that nature cannot be consoled. And we fear.
As ever, when these things come to mind, God seems to throw up a gentle reminder. ‘Don’t be afraid. I am in control.’
He does not say that he is going to remove the suffering. He is not saying that things will be easier for us. He just tells us not to be afraid, because fear is so limiting; fear stops us being.
So, as I was saying Morning Prayer this morning, thinking about that is going on, I got to the Old Testament reading, from Isaiah. It’s worth printing it in full because it really is a great reminder.
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you,
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you;
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up’,
and to the south, ‘Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth--
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.’
Do not be afraid.