REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 69: Through the Eyes of Good Friday.
Sadly, the pandemic is still going strong. There are some hopeful signs. Which are often dashed. There are different vaccines. These have brought hope to many. But remain out of reach to those in poorer nations. There is much uncertainty. To have the jab or not is exercising many.
Can Good Friday help us? It certainly reminds us that there is a pandemic that runs deeper and wider than covid-19. Everyone in the world has it. It ends in physical death for everyone, and spiritual alienation from God for ever, for those who refuse to turn back to him, trusting His Son. It is the sin-pandemic that God the Son came into our world to destroy. His way of destroying it was to take upon himself the alienation that we deserve by willingly giving himself to the cross.
This means that there is an issue to be faced that is of far bigger consequence than covid-19. It is the one that has confronted all people since the beginning of time. Getting right with God by trusting Jesus not only gives a perspective on threats like pandemics [and personal trials and widespread suffering] but assures us that whatever else we know about God, we can be certain he is full of love. The two great, defining statements about God’s love in the New Testament, take us to the Cross. The first, in Romans 5:8, runs: but God demonstrates his own love for us in this; that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Whatever else happens to us, to our communities or to our world, we can be sure that God’s loving purpose is to reclaim sinners. Once this big picture truth is grasped and claimed by us, we are free to live in full and glad surrender to the One who loved us. The many uncertainties and disappointments of life and their attended frustrations, far from alienating us from God, can bring us closer to him [Romans 5:1-5]. Romans 8:18-27 is flanked by the assurances of no condemnation [8:1] and no separation [8:31-39] and softened by that pillow of the Father’s loving sovereignty [8:28-30] upon which, according to John Stott, believers of every age have rested their weary heads.
The second Good Friday text that defines God’s love through the Cross is: this is how we know what love is; Jesus Christ laid down his life for us [1 John 3:16a]. God’s love is not defined by everything going the way we would like or hoped for, nor by our having everything we need, nor by our having good health or being surrounded by friends, but by his voluntarily dying in our place. This never changes and becomes the anchor where we find refuge. But in the same way as the parallel passage in the next chapter [4:9-12], such love makes demands on us: and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters [3:16b]. The pandemic and our troubles, need neither define us [we are loved by God], nor render us impassive, heartless or helpless [his love will captivate us and catapult us into sacrificial service]. Though such love is a command, the fact that Jesus laid down his for us becomes the compelling reason for us to lay down our lives for others. Whilst his was, and remains, the unique propitiation for our sins, ours becomes a unique opportunity to serve and commend him to others.
One of the problems of pandemics and far away crises is the feeling of helplessness. This feeling can quickly morph into despair, inertia and guilt on the one hand, and ‘unlove’, hardness and selfishness on the other. Edmund Burke commented that nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he only did a little. Jesus’s example, both on the cross taking the penalty our sins deserved, and taking the towel while his disciples failed to grasp the opportunity of service, remains the reason for us to both receive from him what we could never do for ourselves and to give of ourselves what we alone can do for another. The old hymn says you in your small corner and I in mine. Every time we pray for, look out for and grasp opportunities for service with our outstretched hands [whether to sign the cheque, visit the lonely person, write/type a letter, make the cake or casserole] we in our small, but significant way, imitate our Saviour, ameliorate another’s pain and show forth God’s gracious purposes. This causes us to cast our anxieties on him [Ps 55:22, 1 Peter 5:7] and intentionally refuse to let self-centred concerns enslave us. Our loving Lord reminds us of this devastating tendency: because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved [Matt 24:12-13], and mercifully of the antidotes with their promised outcomes: If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free [John 8:31-32] and it is more blessed to give than to receive [Acts 20:35]. Blessings abound from the Cross and from living a cross-shaped life for the Lord of the cross. Good Friday believing and living is our calling, just as it was our Saviour, the Lord of glory. As we serve others for him we not only glorify our Father but are honoured by Him [John 12:23-28]. What a privilege we have been called to! There is nothing as ennobling and nothing that gives us purpose and pleasure like this [Eph 2:10, 2 Tim 3:17], attracting our Lord’s help and encouragement in the easiest and toughest circumstances of life – pandemics included [2 Thess 2:16-17].
Peter Brain 30th March, 2021