A couple of weeks ago I was able to stay with my parents. Because I live on my own, the Government’s support bubble system kicked in and I was allowed to visit them. As I did so, I was very conscious of those who were not in the same position. At that point those living with others couldn’t go and stay with their family. Even today married friends are still not supposed to be within two metres of their parents/grandchildren if they are following the Government’s guidance. Perhaps more acutely at the time I was aware of single friends who didn’t have family they could visit or who were shielding because of medical conditions.
The reality is that lockdown is easing- but not at the same speed for everybody. And nothing will bring that home more for us as a church than this Sunday. Our morning service will be open for those who have booked (get in touch via the contact page if you are keen to join us) in advance and we will meet following Government guidance. It will be odd in certain ways but I suspect we will appreciate being together. But it won’t be possible for everybody to be there. The Government is still advising certain groups to stay away and so some will continue to be watching from home on our livestream.
How do we handle that? Having two groups- those able to come and those prevented from doing so- is the opposite of what we want but may be our reality for some time to come. I’ve been reflecting on a little verse from Romans 12: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Essentially Paul is saying this- don’t let your mind focus solely on your own situation. Instead, think about what is happening to others and feel appropriately for them. For those who have to stay home this Sunday, it will feel hard perhaps to see pictures of others together in the church building. But can I plead with us? Don’t let that turn into bitterness and resenement- rejoice with those who have the opporunity to regather. But it is also important for those of us who are able to meet not simply to enjoy that and give no thought to those who would love to be with us. That’s part of mourning with those who are mourning. We need to remember that the church is not just those who are there on Sunday. That’s why our aim is to keep streaming our services and doing a virtual coffee time afterwards for those at home. It’s also why our current intention is to keep our midweek prayer meeting totally online over the summer- so that we can include everybody.
Of course that verse is capable of much wider application. In church life almost every piece of good news for somebody (a new job, a new child, a new relationship) is simultaneously a reminder for others of what they long for but don’t have. The only way through those times is for those who feel their lack to train themselves to rejoice in the blessing God has bestowed on others- while those who have been blessed show sensitivity to those for whom it may not be easy. That’s all part of not thinking primarily of ourselves but of others. And we do that because we are indwelt by the Spirit of Jesus- the one who above all else focused on others and not his own situation. So this Sunday we seek to fix our eyes on Him- and be like Him as we respond to the different joys and frustrations that we will experience.