27th April, 2020
Superintendents 3rd letter
Many years ago I bought a book written by Rowan Williams (long before he became Archbishop of Canterbury). I read it, didn’t understand it and so sent it to the second hand bookshop. It was called ‘Resurrection’. A few months ago I came across it again, second hand and thought I would try again. I understand more of it now.
Williams begins by making the point that the first experience of the disciples on Easter day is one of absence. The women go to the tomb and are met with the words ‘He is not here. He has risen.’ They probably only heard the first half of that, whereas we are more likely only to hear the second. Part of the reason for that is that in our culture absence, like silence is seen as wrong in some way, and part is that we tend to rush to the end of the story because we know the outcome.
Then the pandemic arrived and I realised for many people absence will be the hallmark of this Easter. Absence of the person close to them who has died, or absence of the people they would wish to share time with or a whole host of other absences which will be felt and cannot be overcome by technology no matter how much we try. Most, if not all of us will know how that feels.
Our initial experience of absence is that it is about something missing, it causes us to look back. But when we have looked back, and in a sense come to terms with that, then absence becomes a way of looking forward, indeed becomes essential to our finding a new future. The women leaving the tomb encounter the risen Christ and are prohibited from touching him and holding onto him. To hold on is part of the looking back, but their calling, and ours, as part of the church is to look forward and live forward, into the new life Christ brings.
Resurrection changes absolutely everything, not just what happens when we die. Too often we rush to the end of the story and so miss all that God intends to do here and now for us, and through us for others.
If I look back over my experience as a follower of Jesus there are times when it seems God is absent. Sometimes that is inconvenient, sometimes it feels like the end of the world. But as I am able to reflect upon it as experience, I realise that it does not mean God has gone, but that the absence invites me to take a step, to move into something new. Absence creates the space for growth. If you can picture a toddler learning to walk, you see them taking faltering, nervous steps towards the parent who is in front of them. Look carefully and you see the parent stepping back, requiring the toddler to walk further, to grow in confidence.
As we live through the pandemic and its effects, we will find in the midst of it all opportunities for growth and as Church a challenge to rethink the way we work.
Whatever our experience of this absence, let us be clear we are not abandoned. God is bigger than this situation and will use it in ways we can’t imagine. If Good Friday shows us how God comes into the very sharpness of our experience, then Resurrection is inviting us into all the fullness of God’s eternity.
Faith may feel like faltering steps at the moment, but it is still faith in the God who comes to us in Jesus.
We continue to pray at 11am each day, and would ask that you keep in touch with people and let us know if anyone needs help or support.