By Rev. Canon Robin Lyons
Every so often in the course of our individual lives and – on a larger scale in the course of our collective history – circumstances arise which throw everything into confusion.
These days are of that ilk. COVID-19 has changed everything. Familiar behaviours, comfortable ‘taken-for-granted’ habits, the precious every-day delights of being together and being out and about in the company of others, family times, even the joy of a ‘heart and soul affirming’ hug with a loved one or an ‘in-person face-to-face’ conversation over drinks and dinner – all of these things so essential, once so usual and normal and accessible – are now beyond our ready grasp. Things have changed.
Suddenly, life is dangerous. Extreme measures are in effect to protect us from the threat both we and others may represent. We wear masks. We self-isolate. We socially-distance. We refrain from all but necessary shopping and limit even a simple walk taken for fresh air and exercise.
Disinfecting and sanitizing and handwashing are the new mantras. Even more dreadfully, broken hearted family members cannot watch with dying loved ones in hospitals. Senior citizens in retirement and nursing homes are separated from their children and grand-children just when they most need their support. The challenges faced by homeless folks and those dependent on food banks have become more difficult and dangerous. The supports once typically offered by churches and charitable organizations and welfare agencies are no longer ‘offer-able’ in the usual ways. Things have changed.
Then into the midst of this strange new COVID-19 induced existence comes news of a heart-breaking act of cruelty and evil – the mindless mass murder of 22 folks in a violent and inexplicable rampage of destruction in Nova Scotia. Those most directly affected are left reeling without benefit of the once typical expressions of support and consolation. The natural gatherings for wakes and funerals, families and neighbours embracing in mourning, even the face-to-face dropping off casseroles and flower arrangements to convey love and concern and express support and the sharing of grief – all of these are denied. How things have changed! And every day, all day, we are left to answer the pressing questions: How much more can we take? How can we cope?
Yesterday morning in a study group with some friends, I listened as members reflected on the declaration in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” In times like these, so constrained by COVID-19 and so anguished by the unthinkable violence in Nova Scotia – a world so changed and changing and overwhelmed by sorrow, and individuals forced to bear such heartbreak and heavy burdens – in this world and these times, this kind of declaration of something permanent and dependable and constant and substantial and unyielding is something we want and need to hear. Even more, it is something we need to cling to, to appropriate, to activate, and to employ. Christians are being called to incarnate, live, and share this truth precisely in these times, in response to these current challenges, so that our neighbours may both see – and begin to understand and claim – what God offers to help us cope with the soul-crushing and heart-anguishing aspects of these changing times.
It falls to us Christians to find ways to proclaim and exhibit and share Jesus in these times despite the changes and climate – to find ways to circumvent and defeat the constrictions placed on interaction and engagement because of COVID-19 and particularly in the face of so much suffering. Thankfully, many of our leaders are doing just that – and the technology which has been such an asset in business and communication to this point, has become an essential tool for ministry and witness and worship. Thanks be to God for these resources, and these leaders in ministry who are so lovingly and creatively working to serve Christ and all of God’s beloved in these changing and trying times!
But the mantle of responsibility does not fall only on the shoulders of our exemplary leaders. We have a part to play in this ministry – it is ours now as the people of God, in these changing and trying times , just as it has always been. All we who believe are a priesthood – and we share responsibility with our leaders to shine with the light of Christ in service to God and for our neighbours’ sake. Our worship and work must continue as the Body of Christ – and so must our witness as individual members of that body. We are called to follow the example of our Lord now as always.
To that end, and among the gifts related to that task of witness, we have the resource of our testimony. In the course of our lives, there are certainly times which may not have been characterized by the all-pervasive challenges of COVID-19, nor by the crushing heartbreak of the Nova Scotia shootings – but nevertheless have been impacted by personal suffering and heartbreak and anxiety and fear and loss and grief and helplessness. In my life, those are the times that have contributed most to the formation of my faith. They are the times when I have most intimately felt the presence and power of God – sometimes with the benefit of retrospection. They are the times when God’s faithfulness and unrelenting love have been most real and life-saving and tangible. It is in these kind of times that Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow – has revealed Himself to and for me, as ever-present; unchanging in love and grace; and always working for good. I hope and pray it is the same for you!
And if by God’s grace it is true for you, you have a message your neighbours need to hear right now. You have a truth the world needs to be told right now. You have a life-preserver, a hope, a means to cope, a saving resource your friends and neighbours need for living right now… and you can share it, by word and deed projected into the reality of this very moment – these changed, changing, and anguished times.
That message and that truth – which speak of a God who is always compassionately involved in our lives, fiercely loving, and unrelenting in the effort to embrace us even when we can’t lift our arms to embrace Him – is validated and empowered by our experience. So speak it! Share it! Show it! Proclaim the loving Saviour who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow; with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change(James 1:17). (Use technology as needs be!)
My experience – and I pray yours as well – is unique and individual, but falls into a collective shared pattern. Perhaps an accurate summary is offered by Psalm 139:8-9:
“If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle in the farthest depths of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your hand shall guide me and your right hand hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is as bright as the day, and the darkness is light to you.”
In this fierce, unrelenting, abiding, and active love – and with this unfailing divine grasp of our selves, our souls and bodies – our Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Christ’s present love and Christ’s expansive embrace are real right now. We who have personally faced troubled times like the ones we live in right now, know this to be true. So let us speak this truth – rooted in our experience – into these days of challenge and heart break. The times are changing – but the love of God remains.
Rev. Canon Rob Lyons is a retired priest in the Diocese of Huron.