I’ve noticed something interesting in Britain during this COVID-19 crisis – perhaps not that surprising, but maybe a significant sign of the times.
It seems that everyone you see on the media – government ministers, TV presenters, journalists and everyone given a public voice – is saying that their prayers are fervent for the deceased, the bereaved, and the NHS workers universally being compared to Spitfire pilots battling the enemy’s constant attacks. But not one of them ever mentions God.
In less troubled times this display of religious devotion without religion would be worth exploring. Now I simply note it, with the observation that it is of a piece with the Archbishop of Canterbury not only closing public services of the Church of England (which is undoubtedly necessary once one accepts general quarantine), but forbidding the clergy even to enter their churches to pray or even live-stream to their congregations.
For non-Anglican readers, I should mention that the law requires Anglican incumbents to say the liturgy in their churches daily, even in the absence of any other worshippers, so it goes against the grain of many faithful ministers. As does the bishops’ apparent edict that lay-chaplains should not pray with the dying in hospitals.
It does seem particularly sad to forget God on Good Friday, when the Only Begotten Son not only entered into, but took upon himself our sufferings, including of course the sicknesses and infirmities of our fallen nature. But then again, for those who do reflect upon it (I hope that includes you, dear readers), the salvation that he won for us that day he won alone, deserted by all men, including his own fickle disciples. Plus ça change…
And so let us break the pattern today by remembering the crucified Christ who is the ultimate answer to the tribulations the darkness of sin brings upon our world; not with despair that that world seems to have forgotten its need of him, but with thanksgiving that our enmity against God was the very thing he died to reverse, without our help :
59 Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
2 But your iniquities have separated
you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear.
3 For your hands are stained with blood,
your fingers with guilt.
Your lips have spoken falsely,
and your tongue mutters wicked things.
4 No one calls for justice;
no one pleads a case with integrity.
They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies;
they conceive trouble and give birth to evil.
5 They hatch the eggs of vipers
and spin a spider’s web.
Whoever eats their eggs will die,
and when one is broken, an adder is hatched.
6 Their cobwebs are useless for clothing;
they cannot cover themselves with what they make.
Their deeds are evil deeds,
and acts of violence are in their hands.
7 Their feet rush into sin;
they are swift to shed innocent blood.
They pursue evil schemes;
acts of violence mark their ways.
8 The way of peace they do not know;
there is no justice in their paths.
They have turned them into crooked roads;
no one who walks along them will know peace.
9 So justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
10 Like the blind we grope along the wall,
feeling our way like people without eyes.
At midday we stumble as if it were twilight;
among the strong, we are like the dead.
11 We all growl like bears;
we moan mournfully like doves.
We look for justice, but find none;
for deliverance, but it is far away.
12 For our offences are many in your sight,
and our sins testify against us.
Our offences are ever with us,
and we acknowledge our iniquities:
13 rebellion and treachery against the Lord,
turning our backs on our God,
inciting revolt and oppression,
uttering lies our hearts have conceived.
14 So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
15 Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
The Lord looked and was displeased
that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him. (Isa 59:1-16).
If any Anglican, or other, readers are locked out of their church without ministry, our own little village Baptist church is live-streaming services on our YouTube channel. You’re welcome to join us – you may even clock me playing and singing a little.
Meanwhile an old, but I guess, apposite, song of mine.