I went to church last Sunday (29 March). Of course, worship services had been banned by then, so I did not go to worship. Rather, it was to check the security of Scots in a time of shutdown. And to get out of the house. For exercise, I rode my bike in. The streets were unusually quiet and the city relatively deserted. I took a shorter route, on roads like Greenhill, that normally I would not dare travel. It was a perfect day for a ride – warm sunshine, not too hot, clear air, no one about. It was good to be alive. It was easy to forget the reason for the calm: Our pandemic had started to send people into seclusion.
Our government has been gradually introducing measures which are euphemistically described as social distancing – limiting the distance between people, increasing the personal space required, restricting the number of people gathering (it’s hard to see how you can go below two and still have a “gathering”), shutting down certain businesses that rely on people interaction, and so on. I understand the logic behind the restrictions, the desire to “flatten the curve.” However, I am concerned about the long-term consequences of such moves.
Humans are created for community. In Genesis 2, after creating the Adam human, God declares that it is not good for a human to be alone. In the gospels, Jesus repeatedly refers to “the kingdom of God” as a place of fellowship together. One of the most typical activities of this kingdom is that of a meal, a party together, not just of family, but of people from near and far. Now banned!
The plague is a threat to community.
Others realise this. You may have seen the many, creative attempts to keep people linked together during this time. Orchestras and yoga classes are now going online. Of course, to be part of this community, one must have easy access to the internet. Many, even in Australia, do not. On the other hand, we have the telephone, now ubiquitous. It is easy to pick up the phone, dial someone, and ask “How are you doing?” Some of our congregation have already done that for me, and it has been a gift. Given the business of the last few days, trying to think ahead and plan what is happening with the congregation and the office, such calls have meant much more than the caller would have realised. Thank you.
Don’t just call me. Call someone you might chat with at Sunday morning tea. Or, better still, call someone whom you might just smile at. If you don’t know their number, I can give it to you, if it’s in the church directory. (Darn! we were updating the directory but did not get it out.) And don’t just ask how they are, even though that is very important. Ask them to tell you a story about their day or their experiences, because stories are so important. Stories encapsulate identity. The stories we tell express who we are as a person.
The plague is a threat to community. Distancing, even if only practised physically, can create a pattern of keeping our distance mentally or spiritually. Our PM is talking of six months of restrictions. As the plague drifts on – one month, three months, six months – maintaining community will become harder and harder. For Christians, the need to support community is not just a good deed or an exercise of altruism. It is part of our identity, of who we are. It is an expression of the meaning of the kingdom of God, the community of divine love. Part of our duty as people of faith is to try our darndest to make sure that when this plague is passed, community remains, not just at Scots, but among our neighbours. So, in this time of plague, we should be vigilant to show all the care we can, whenever we can, to all the people we can.
When I planned out this message, I intended to talk about two things: our practical response as Christians and a theological response. The practical has taken up most of the space.
The other is this: We will soon be celebrating Easter. At Easter, we remember that God is a deity of life, not death. For now, we live in a time of death. The plague surrounds us. It has monopolised the news. Against it, we must live life. The resurrection is the message that love is stronger than death, that community and care are stronger than alienation and distancing.
No matter what we fear. No matter what we hear or see around us, we are all sheltered under the loving wings of a loving God. Draw strength and confidence from that love. Be that love for others.
Rev Dr Peter Trudinger
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