REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 39: Pandemical grace and treasures.
Lord God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: grant us such a measure of your grace that, running in the way of your commandments, we may obtain your promises, and share in your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
This prayer, the Collect for the 11th Sunday after Trinity (AAPB following BCP), has been on my mind since we prayed it a week ago at Morning Prayer. It is often said, quite reasonably I think, that Anglicans pray their doctrine [this is especially so in the BCP Collects/liturgies], and is true in so far as we obey what we pray. There is little doubt in my mind that the doctrines we find in the Bible should take us naturally into prayers of confession, praise, gratitude or supplication. It was the great commentator Matthew Henry who remarked that: the Bible is a letter God hath sent to us, prayer is a letter we send to Him.
What has this to do with the pandemic?
We are reminded that we pray to the Lord God whose mighty power is seen chiefly in showing mercy and pity. Many seem to have lost sight of the truth that the pandemic could be a means of God showing mercy and pity. There seems to be a belief that God should be more interested in our happiness than our holiness and that if he loves us he should not cause us any discomfort. But the Bible teaches us that His mercy is so often seen in His discipline [Heb. 12:1-13] rebuke, correction and training [2 Tim. 3:16-17]. The prayer is correct to suggest that mercy and pity are chief among His means and purposes as the words of assurance from Matt. 11:28, John 3:16, 1 Tim 1:15 and 1 John 2:1-2 [from 1st order Holy Communion] make plain. He is so loving that he gives us opportunity of turning back to Him through adversity, including events that shake us and our world. This is the kind of mercy our Lord spoke of: I tell you my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell [Luke 12:4-5]. Not only is there a fate far worse than death, but one worse than comfort and ease without Him!
Does this sound hard? Only if you have not been a parent! We all know that it is necessary to withhold things in order to train and correct our children, for the sake of society, themselves and ourselves. How much more God who loves us with an everlasting love [Jeremiah 31:3]. What we are assured of is that our heavenly Father can be trusted to help and strengthen us through this painful, but life giving journey. Jesus went on to remind us: Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Indeed the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows yet not one of them is forgotten by God [Luke 12:6-7].
This grace, designed to bring the unrepentant to their knees and then to Christ, is a magnificent display of mercy since we all deserve His judgement. And this is especially so for those who have known and had ample opportunity to hear and then heed the gospel, or worse, embraced but walked away from Christ. Here is grace for the prodigal as well as the self-righteous who feel they have no need for Jesus. The prayer book takes us to the heart of God, when it quotes: who desires not the death of a sinner but rather that he should turn and live [Ezekiel 18:23/32]. With a heavenly treasure to be lost through neglect, pride or complacency God would use the uncertainties caused by a pandemic to awaken us to the unparalleled riches He offers [Eph. 3:7-21].
Grace in terms of a new heart: one that would be content with nothing less than running after God’s freedom giving commandments. A grace proven in difficulties and improved with experiential obedience is so good, and so real, that no pandemical trial can it take from us. The certainties we surround ourselves with have, in the main, masked our need for God’s sustaining grace. The Creator is so easily replaced by His gifts like scientific endeavour, medical research, entertainment and even friendship and family. These gifts, good enough in and of themselves to live a happy life, need to be removed as the basis for our joy, security and worth. This is the drift and tenor of God’s promises, warnings and comforts set before us in the Bible. If our grasp of them is weak through inattention, it is hardly surprising that God, out of love might use pandemic uncertainties to loosen our grip on gifts become idols, which were never designed to bring us lasting security and happiness. These can only be found in relationship with God our gracious Father through His Son. Wonderfully and paradoxically, the uncertainty of the pandemic, once accepted as a loving gift, can then deliver us security, certainty and, real enjoyment of His gifts. That which we crave can only be found as our grip on our idols is loosed so that our grip on God is strengthened and proved in daily experience. This love is for real and to be treasured above all else. As the hymn puts it: O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul on Thee; I give Thee back the life I owe, that in Thine ocean depths its flow may, richer, fuller be.
Peter Brain 1st September, 2020