To my brothers and sisters in Christ…
There’s been a tremendous amount of commentary on the television, radio, in the newspapers and social media about ‘social distancing’.
Our Diocesan Bishops, however, have suggested we should avoid using: “…the language of ‘social distancing’, but, rather, ‘physical distancing’. Social interaction is now more important than ever; we just have to be more creative about how we enable people to interact without touch, contact or, sometimes, presence.”
I would add the following:
To use the term ‘social distancing’ somehow implies that society (and community) are breaking down and separate. That is wrong.
Granted, we may not be able to physically meet – but especially in the 21st century, there are myriad ways in which ‘community’ can be maintained and society can continue. We are blessed with emails, messaging apps and other forms of social media. Last night I attended a group discussion with 55 people simultaneously, on live video using a platform called ‘Zoom’. None of these people lives in close proximity; in fact, some attendees don’t even live in this country. We don’t even need the latest technology though – we all have access to a telephone; most are likely to have access to a mobile phone. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. From the phone conversations I have had, I know it makes a difference. It’s good isn’t it to hear each other’s voice, to catch up and to maintain ‘community’?
It seems clear from the epistles that Paul was all too familiar with the experience of being separated and absent. He wrote “For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, and I rejoice to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5) and “As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.” (1 Thessalonians 2:17) I know these verses very well; they have often been on my mind in this time we cannot physically meet. They come back to my mind now. We are absent in body, but certainly with one another in spirit. We can maintain contact by whatever means works, we can pray for one another and we can encourage one another.
It has been a tremendous blessing to me to have conversations with some of you, to hear how you are coping and as Paul says to “see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” That gives me a tremendous cause to rejoice and be thankful. No wonder Paul went on to say “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? Yes, you are our glory and joy!” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20)
It wasn’t just Paul who was very aware of the significance and challenges of absence. We know from Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and exaltation that often as much, if not more, can be said from someone’s physical absence as much as someone’s presence. “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Jesus also said “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:32-33)
Jesus said he was not alone because his Father was with him. We are not alone because God is with us and we are the body of Christ. The Church, the body of Christ and the bride of Christ, is no stranger to adversity; she has weathered storms before, and she will weather this storm too. As the Church, wherever we may be, we too will weather this storm.
Please know you are all very much in my thoughts and in my prayers. We have this time to do the things we so often find are squeezed out by the busy-ness and business of life – on the spiritual side, prayer & Bible study; on the practical side, cleaning, tidying and reading. If you are fed up and going stir crazy though, do pick up the phone. It really does make a difference and helps us keep connected.
The Lord is here, His Spirit is with us.
With much love