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Singing in a Strange Land4 months ago
Kevin Roberts reflects on how in these difficult days we can sing the Lord's song in a strange land
Holy Week 2020
I’m writing this on the loveliest April Day, the sun streaming through my study window. I’m conscious, though, of darker clouds overhead, and of heavier thoughts swirling around inside me.
I’m not speaking of the weather, but of the circumstances in this strange coronavirus land we are all currently living in, where at times it is hard to sing the Lord’s song.
The death toll today has been astronomical. Our Prime Minister is in intensive care. Churches are shut. Neighbours are locked behind closed doors. And I have had some difficult conversations today with valued members of my team to reduce their working hours, knowing that this can only add to the burdens of already overburdened lives. It hasn’t been a great day, however warm and unseasonal the weather.
And it is Holy Week, with at its centre a man, The Man, walking towards his death. However much we know how the story ends, and what the cross will accomplish for us, it is a story that highlights human evil like no other and shows the worst that people are capable of, and what I am capable of too. I’m just being honest with you. Thoughts of the world’s suffering have collided today with thoughts of the Man of Sorrows, and it hasn’t been the brightest of days.
In it all, I have pondered a question that many of us are asking. How can we sing the Lord’s song in this strange coronavirus land? How can we sing magnificat when life has taken such an unexpected turn and the future, as it was for Mary, is shrouded in such uncertainty?
Well, definitely not by avoiding the reality of what is going on around us and inside us. That would be a fake spirituality, at best a shallow spirituality, a spirituality hardly worthy of the followers of Jesus, the Word made flesh. We are looking for a song to sing IN a strange land, not a song to sing as though we weren’t really in exile at all.
We want to sing an authentic song, a song that sees and feels and engages with even the harshest realities of life, but which bursts though the gloom, and that can’t be beaten down by the worst that life can throw at us. We want the kind of song that Paul and Silas sang in a Philippian jail, and that believers down the years have sung in the hardest of times, when the music has faded and when all has been stripped away.
Life really isn’t too bad for Anne and me at the moment. In reality there have been harder times for us, and there are countless people around us for whom this is a much, much more difficult journey. So we are able to sing, mindful of the Lord’s goodness and blessings to us, not least in the beauty around us as Spring puts leaves on the trees and colour back into the garden.
Like the writer of Psalm 137 resolving not to forget Jerusalem, there is also much to look back on through the journey of our lives, that causes our hearts to sing. And just as Ezekiel helped the exiles in Babylon to look ahead to better days, a new Temple, a restored Jerusalem, a new heart, dry bones alive again, so we can look forward to what is ahead of us when life opens up again.
But I’m finding, too, that I’m singing as I see God at work right now, in the mess and muddle and strangeness of life in lock-down. I have seen God in the immeasurable kindness of sisters and brothers; in the conversations that I have had with believers moving into a deeper discipleship and with those outside the church asking questions about Jesus; in the wisdom that I’m reading and hearing each day as churches and church leaders have moved into top gear on the internet and in social media.
And more than that, what really makes me sing is the sense that God is at work in the world and the church and in his people to use all of this pain and dislocation for good, and for the gospel and for the greater coming of the Kingdom. That is what get’s my magnificat going, if I can put it that way. The sense that beyond all of this trouble the world might be a place more open to the good news we carry, and that the church might be re-shaped, with a new simplicity, a new humility, a fresh compassion, a new vulnerability even, which will lead it to look more quickly to God for strength in its weakness.
That is what stirs the vocal chords, even in this strange coronavirus land, that God is right in the midst of all our troubles, meeting us in the present, and re-shaping us for a very different kind of future.