Thoughts from the isolation sofa IV
The Church has left the building, but God has not left the Church.
I will confess that this week has been particularly difficult. It has brought the ravages of Covid-19 in its complete unadulterated nastiness too close to my desk for me to feel comfortable or untouched. Although we are all healthy, sadly that cannot be said for friends and colleagues. As a result Holy week is going to be even more difficult that what it would have been if we had just been isolating. With the peak of the virus in the UK expected on the 15th April (my son’s birthday) I know that the pain is likely to get worse. How can we possibly speak hope into that? As I hinted last week, the fact that it is Holy Week is the hope.
In the last week I watched a conversation between Archbishop Welby, Cardinal Nichols and Chief Rabbi Mirvis in which each faith leader talked about the difficulty of coming to a time when we all traditionally gather together and the fact that this year obviously that will not be physically possible. For the Jewish faith the loss of the Seder meal will be particularly hard to bear. For those of us that are more theologically Catholic in practice or thought, then the inability to take communion on Easter Sunday will prove to be a challenge also. However, each contributor spoke of the great work that is being done by faith communities, a rediscovery of hope and a renewed appreciation of the power of prayer.
Justin Welby specifically picked out how as Christians we are relearning the true meaning of the term ēkklēsia. In order to understand this, let us look at 1 Timothy 3:15 “…you may know how one ought to behave in the household [ŏikŏs] of God, which is the church [ēkklēsia] of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (NRSV) Here there are two important words which we need to explore and understand this Holy Week and through Eastertide. By doing so we might deepen our faith and draw nearer to the living God.
Firstly, let us look at the two words and their meanings. Ŏikŏs (3624) means a dwelling, a family, house or home, it can also be used to mean temple. Ēkklēsia (1577) means a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation, assembly or church but can also correctly be used to describe a Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both. It is therefore justifiable to translate the verse as “…in the family house, which is God’s, which is the assembly of the living God…”. So, the church is not the buildings that are closed, we do not stop doing God because we cannot attend a building. The church is the assembly, group or family that we gather around us, whether that be physically or spiritually. The later development that church is the building begins in the 4th century and really does not become prevalent in the West till the 8th and 9th century. Whoever was the writer of 1 Timothy they cannot have been referring to ēkklēsia in terms of a building. Compare this with Matthew 18:20 ‘For where two or three are gathered[sunagō] in my name, I am there among them.’ If we accept the translation of sunagō as convene then wherever and however two or more people of faith gather, God is there also. More, since God is personal and loving, when we cry out Abba Father in prayer, we know that He will always be with us.
So how does this help us in Holy Week? In the Jewish faith one of the most important events each week is the Sabbath meal at sundown on a Friday evening. We can learn from this. Over Easter, in our house we are challenging ourselves to make the most of what we have. On Good Friday, as we cannot do anything else and cannot be distracted by the worldly events, we have the chance to really contemplate what the sacrifice Christ made on the cross really means to each of us. Our meal on Easter Sunday will be based in prayer where we will celebrate the time that we have with each other, rejoice in the time where we have been able to regroup as a family and rediscover what we truly mean to each other. Importantly, it will also draw us to thinking about what we have, despite being in lockdown in our house, and so how fortunate we are. For many, this Easter will be filled with the pain of bereavement, worry over money, the fear of going to work or the fear of being at home in an abusive relationship. Appreciation of what we have in this way leads to prayer; we hold before God those whose lack comes sharply into focus, commending them to God’s love.
This deeper understanding of the problems of the world allows us to contemplate the world as God sees it. As a world filled full of love, a huge community that need not seek advancement against one’s neighbour, where the pain of others is as important as our own pain, where the poor are lifted up, the sick are healed and the dead mourned. So, this Easter I invite you to rejoice in what you have and rediscover the value of love in the small things of life.
On behalf of the Chaplaincy team, I wish you a joyful, peaceful and healthy Easter, good health and happiness to all those that you love and peace to all those for whom you pray.
Habakkuk 3:18 I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation