Last autumn the elders decided that our vision verse for 2020 would come from 2 Corinthians 1:9. The apostle Paul had faced various difficulties and persecutions- to the extent he felt like he had been sentenced to death. But he notes that these happened that “we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” 2019 had presented us with a few challenges as a church and so it felt like depending on the Lord was an appropriate focus for us. Given the current situation we chose better than we knew.
There is plenty to say about the epidemic (and we still have details to work on as a church)- but one thing about it is that it graphically reminds us of our dependence on God. In James 4 we are told not to make plans with the assumption that we are in control. After all, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Instead, we are to remember that things only happen if they are God’s will. To be honest, I had always paid lip service to that verse. After all, my experience in life had been that you planned meetings, trips and events and they generally happened. As event after event has disappeared out of my diary over the last few days and panic has gripped the nation it has become acutely evident that we are not in control of our destiny. We are not in charge. Whatever else this brings it should give us a deeper sense that we are simply creatures, that God is the Creator and our lives are in His hands. We are learning dependence.
But that in itself may not answer the fears that many of us will have at the moment. So here is the good news. The God on whom we rely is, according to Paul, the One who raises the dead. I cannot remember a more sombre moment in my lifetime than Boris Johnson warning that the virus is likely to take some of our loved ones before their time. Suddenly life and death are on the table. But this is an area where Christians have a particular confidence. For us, Jesus’ empty tomb in Jerusalem is not a little thing. It is a cosmic reality. It is to be sung loudly in the face of an epidemic. Death is dead, love has won and Christ has conquered. In the deepest sense, nothing has changed in the last few days. Christ is still risen. The ultimate enemy has met its match.
We will need to remind ourselves of that. I’ve just got back to Oxford having been away for the last few days (great timing I know.) On Friday I drove from Oxford to Sheffield with the radio on. After two hours of virus conversation I was pretty terrified. So when it came to driving on Sunday from Sheffield to preach in Hartlepool I resolved that I was going to listen to a couple of sermons instead. That wasn’t escapism- I have kept informed of developments. But it was an important reminder that the virus is not the sole or even ultimate reality at the moment- there is a God who is in charge and because He is the victor, He can be relied on.
These days will be hard. But can I plead with us? Work out now how you are going actively to depend on the Lord. Don’t just drift into a diet of social media fear. There are ways to keep reminding ourselves of the Lord. We will be streaming services on Sundays at 10.30 and 4.00. There are a heap of old sermons on the church website (including on our theme of dependence) – and on those of other churches. Perhaps now is the time to step up reading the Bible and texting a friend to tell them what you have read?
So much is being stripped away at the moment. Hobbies, security about our health, ability to travel, easy contact with those we love. All gone. Perhaps we are at a point where the Lord is pretty much all that is left. But wouldn’t it be good if what emerged from this furnace as a result is a group of people who knew Him in a much deeper way than ever before?