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Monday, 30 March 2020

Jesus Wept

It is easy to forget that we are in the middle of Lent.

The idea of celebrating Easter – in just two weeks – seems totally disconnected from reality.

I have barely thought about it.

On Friday I had a conversation with a friend about Lent and then, at the weekend, listened to a podcast about Lent where the speaker said that, like it or not, Christian or not, the coronavirus pandemic has forced all of us into Lent. Lent is traditionally the time in the church calendar when we remember our own mortality. It begins with Ash Wednesday where Christians around the world recite words reminiscent of those that will be spoken over them at their own funeral: ““Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)

Earth to earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

We are, all of us, at the moment, confronted with our own mortality.

And it is uncomfortable. It is frightening. We are not sure how to respond to it. I am mainly avoiding reading the news. I am avoiding looking at graphs that map out the progression of the coronavirus here in comparison to Italy. I am avoiding the death toll statistics.

I spent much of last week feeling fairly peaceful but this weekend has been difficult. My girls’ behaviour has been challenging at times. They know that something is wrong now. That something is wrong and that it isn’t going away. Perhaps that is what I have realised too: it is easy(ish) to cope with lockdown for a week. But what about two weeks? Twelve weeks? Six months?

I miss my parents. I miss my friends. I miss my church family. Zoom meetings and Whatsapp Video (however grateful I am for them) do not quite cut it.

We sat as a family last night around the dinner table and we tried to talk about how we are feeling (easier said than done with a two year old and a four year old). Hamish and I tried to be honest with our girls about what we are finding difficult. We tried to create a space for us to be vulnerable and angry and sad.

And I think this is going to be really important in the weeks to come. Much of what I read last week in Philippians was about rejoicing, but we do not rejoice as a means of simply coating over our grief. As a society, us British are very bad at grieving. We are very bad at allowing ourselves the time and space to be sad or, to use an old-fashioned word, to lament. And there is much to lament at the moment. Many of us are grieving. We are grieving the loss of our freedoms. We are grieving contact with our loves ones. We are grieving the insurmountable pressures being placed on our NHS and schools. In our own church family, we are grieving the death of two of our beloved brothers and sisters.

This year, Church Mission Society (CMS) produced a resource called “Lament for Lent” which I had been journeying through but forgot about it the midst of the pandemic. I picked it up again last night and read this, “God isn’t afraid of our grief. He doesn’t cower when we complain. And he does not take our lament lightly.”

This is such an encouraging thought: we believe in a God who is not frightened of our grief. In fact, we believe in a God who stands with us in it. Who knows what it is to lament. One of the prophecies made about Jesus in the Old Testament calls him “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) The stories that we have of Jesus in the bible reveal a God who weeps with and for his people. A God who stands with Mary and Martha at the graveside and weeps with them over the death of their brother, Lazarus (John 11:35) A God who is “deeply moved in his spirit” (John 11:38) when confronted with his friends’ pain. A God who weeps over the city that rejects him. (Luke 19:41) A God who weeps at this world of suffering and pain and sin, and what he must do to redeem it (Luke 22:24)

Let us take courage from this today. Let us bring our lament before God because He is not afraid of our grief.

“Trust in him at all times, you people;
Pour our your hearts before him,
For God is our refuge." (Psalm 62:8)

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