Toward the end of the book, you talk about the church and its response to various lockdown orders. You argue that our willingness to suspend in-person gatherings and conduct services online may have accidentally reinforced the secular idea that faith is a private activity. How do we navigate the tension between the call to corporate worship and the importance of public health?
I begin with the point that Luther made that we must not spread infection. That’s irresponsible. It’s playing around with other people’s lives. And if we love our church buildings more than we love our neighbours, then woe betide us. The fact is, most of the churches in the UK are old buildings, which makes it very difficult to deep-clean them. And I take that very seriously.
But on the other hand, I worry that online church can easily tempt us into saying, “Oh, we don’t need to meet in person, because these are spiritual matters.”
So, you can worship God in your bedroom, in you pajamas, as much as anywhere else? Well, in a sense you can. But Christianity is a team sport. It’s something we do together. Think of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, graciousness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23). All of those are things we do together. You can’t be practicing them apart from one another. And so the sooner we can come back together wisely, the better.
As for receiving the Eucharist, yes, we can receive that on the screen, but there is also a sense of fasting, of deprivation, of exile, because the body of Christ —the larger family of the people of God — is not physically present with us.
I’ve long thought that the most important response to evil and suffering isn’t words so much as action, even action that may be costly. Jesus modelled this for us. So, in light of the suffering caused by the pandemic: What should Christians be doing now? How then should we live?
There’s a fascinating passage in Acts 11, where the disciples in Antioch hear from a prophet that there’s going to be a famine (v. 28). They don’t respond: Oh dear, what can this mean? Is God angry with us? Does this mean the Lord is coming back? No, they’re very practical. They ask: Who is going to be most at risk? What can we do to help? And who should we send? The result is that Paul and Barnabas are sent off to Jerusalem with money for the poor church there (v. 29–30).
It’s similar at the start of John 9, the story of the man born blind. Jesus is relentlessly practical and discourages his disciples from asking whose fault this was or whether some sin was to blame (v. 3). It wasn’t actually anybody’s fault. The important question is: What God would have us do in response?
So, for us, we should start with our neighbours, friends, and family, asking who we could help by bringing some food, tools, or medical supplies. Maybe our church could get involved with something like running a food bank. In short, we should ask: What can we do?
In his wonderful book Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, the historian Tom Holland points out that many things the church and only the church used to do have now been taken on by the wider secular society. Thus many doctors and nurses who would not call themselves Christians have picked up this strong imperative to look after people, even at the potential cost of their own lives. That is a noble thing. But in the ancient world, it was only the Christians who did that. So, in a sense, some of that Christian ideal has spread out into the world. And we should thank God for that.
But in the church, we have been doing things like medicine, care of the poor, and education from day one. They are deep in the church’s DNA. So, Christians should be reclaiming that tradition and holding onto it — and not just when there’s a pandemic going on.
(Part 3 of 3)
Dear NSC Matriculants
(An article by Naomi Holdt)
You are angry, you are furious… rightfully so… Unfairness… Injustice… The deceitful actions of a few have upturned the world of thousands…
Your 2020 year has been nothing like you anticipated or planned… It was meant to be YOUR year… Top of your school.. The focus should have been socializing, friendships, dances, sports tours, leadership opportunities, memories you had waited so long to create… It was your time to shine… But instead, you were tossed the realities of a global pandemic… Isolation, missed opportunities, online learning, extra stress, deprived of so much of what you had looked forward to for so long… Despite insurmountable odds, and the most surreal craziness, you did it… You survived the chaos of 2020, through the frustrations, the loss of so much, the masks, the distancing, the excessive sanitizing, the heightened anxiety…. You made it to your exams… The final stretch…
And then… When you thought it was over… Criminal, selfish, infuriating, dishonest actions resulted in yet another injustice… The announcement that you could scarcely believe… Leaked papers… Matric examination rewrites…
Shock… Disbelief… Is there any justice? Where does the corruption end?
Be furious… be insanely frustrated… Weep bucketfuls… Swear… Curse… Throw your pillow against a wall… Break down… You’re entitled to it all… It’s appropriate and healthy… Allow yourself to feel all the raging emotions…
And then, after you are completely drenched in the sadness and disempowerment of this raw injustice, remember all that you have learnt in this year of fire…
You, the matrics of 2020, can survive any obstacle, even those you wish you didn’t have to face…
There is much truth in the cliche ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’… You ARE stronger… You ARE smarter… and you ARE resilient…
No storm lasts forever… this will pass… and in the meantime time you have learnt to create your own umbrellas and dance in the puddles, and you have done so with determination and perseverance…
Because of all you have proved that you can overcome, you will begin 2021 with a greater springboard into your future than any matric year before you… I know you don’t want to hear it, but growth happens in the darkness… You don’t have to absorb those words yet, but believe me, in years to come when you look back, you’ll know it to be true…
Anger and resentment are all consuming if held onto… Let them go… There is always so much in life that we cannot control… That we have no choice over… But we do get to decide how to face the mountains we have been thrown… Whether we focus on the jagged cliffs or the fractions of breathtaking beauty along the journey… THAT is a choice that no one can take from us…
Dear Matriculant of 2020… You WILL overcome this too… Choose to rise up, to stare down whatever threatens to flatten you, and keep walking forward, with integrity, with courage, and with unstoppable determination…
“The greatest glory in living is not falling, but in rising every time we fall.” (Nelson Mandela)
Watch out world, here come the matrics of 2020…
You’ve got this,
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