6th Sunday of Easter
by Revd Fiona Pennie
I don’t know about you, but life right now feels rather like I am on a roller coaster of emotions.
Just before we went into lockdown Bruce and I had visited my son David and his girlfriend Bethany in Windsor. We knew this coronovirus was around but life was still ‘normal’ We visited a local National Trust property dutifully washing our hands and opening doors with our elbows. We did, I recall, stand in a long queue waiting to buy lunch in a very packed cafe, but I wasn’t fearful, just cautious and careful.
Then came the order to stay in. I became fearful. Fearful for my elderly mum who had recently relocated to a new flat to be near my sister, fearful for Bruce who very soon found himself reregistered as a doctor after retiring from his role as Orthopaedic surgeon, fearful for myself, about to be licensed to work in the Walton Team Ministry. It felt as though we had been pushed off a cliff into the unknown or whizzing down the steep section of the roller coaster.As an Interim I knew that my role was to hear the story of the Team and help you all work out what change needed to happen, to help you focus on what that might look like going forward, Little did I realise that church itself was going to change. For the first time ever we were not about to gather, whether as small groups in our own homes as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles, congregations in our churches, or at huge gatherings like Spring Harvest or New Wine United.
The rapid shutdown of society, shops, hairdressers, theatres,cinemas and churches didn’t give us time to adjust or make plans we just had to STAY HOME.
So we learned to adapt, to take in the new ‘normal’ .There was an out pouring of love and concern for our neighbours. Folk rushed to offer help in so many ways, to allay some of those fears we had, how would we get food, toilet paper, pasta? The roller coaster was slowing down and we were slowly coming up out of the valley.
A new rhythm of life began to emerge, with church on line, phone calls around the parish to folk we were missing. Careful listening and sharing, time to hear news from folk we would see in church and celebrating deepening of friendships even though we couldn’t meet face to face.
Eight weeks on and we beginning to take those first tentative steps out of lockdown. I am feeling exhausted again venturing out from being ‘safe’ at home. Finding encounters with folk who don’t know how far 2m really is, quite daunting. Fearful of what we are returning to, on the downward slope of the roller coaster again.
As I read the passages set for the sixth Sunday of Easter, their familiar words gave me reassurance and hope. The reminded me that so often the written words of the Bible are the rails which keeps the roller coaster car on the right track.
1 Peter 3 vs 15-16, in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;
yet do it with gentleness and reverence.
This verse has been an anchor in my work as a leader in a multi-faith chaplaincy. I encouraged each of the chaplains to understand what made them want to be a chaplain; to understand the hope that was in each of them, and in turn for myself to sanctify Christ as Lord, to reflect on and grow in my understanding of Jesus and the work he is doing in my life. The key that unlocks these wise words from Peter is however the last phrase, do it withe gentleness and reverence. The passage from John’s Gospel expands that for us in verses 20 and 21
On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
This pandemic has caused all of us to ask big questions of life and for many they are finding themselves praying. For some, so busy on the frontline as key workers, the increase in shifts and the pressure on them means that the roller coaster of life seems to whizzing out of control. They are just getting by sending up arrow prayers, please God be with me on this shift, help me and my colleagues get through this. For others with more time on their hands time and space to asking the questions why? How we will get through this? What does it mean? What happens next?
For many folk they find themselves praying to an ‘unknown’ God, much like we hear of in our passage from Acts. Paul stands before the crowds in Athens and tells them that God is no longer unknown, but known, through the life of Jesus.
For those of us who know Jesus, we are called to increase our knowledge and then to go and tell.
So whether you are whizzing along or at a standstill I hope and pray that you may find the time and the strength to reflect on what is happening in your life. To record and remember when God has answered those prayers. To understand what God is doing through you. To begin to frame those experiences in words whether said or written down, and being prepared to account for the hope that is within you, with gentleness and reverence.