As I write, the sky is blue and has been for some days. Many of the trees are in blossom and the general growth of green stuff is really beginning apace. In a lot of ways, what I can see from my window is normal for this time of year. But the rest of life is not normal. You don’t need me to tell you this, I am sure.

I want to start this article by expressing my condolences to all who have been seriously affected by the coronavirus outbreak. People have died – husbands and fathers, wives and mothers, daughters, sons, friends and partners. People have lost their jobs or their livelihood, and for some, even their sense of usefulness. The lockdown has robbed people of natural contact with friends and family, with the effect that those who normally live alone are even more isolated than usual. Homes in which daily life has always been the difficult experience of managing and coping with toxic behaviour have found their safety-valves removed and stress and even violence are increasing. Many of those with mental health problems are struggling to deal with the restrictions, the uncertainty and the fear. Grief is rife – not just the grief associated with death, but the general grief of loss – of freedom, social contact, employment, money, opportunity and hope. The early months of 2020 have not been kind to many families, and my heart breaks for all who are in pain.

However, as is commonly the case when communities are faced with a serious threat, we can also see the emergence of good. People have stepped up to help their neighbours, and it has been particularly pleasing to see how the strong have come to the assistance of the weak. Jesus taught that we should love our neighbour (not just people-who-live-near-us, but even people-we-find-difficult, cf. Luke 10:25ff). He told his hearers that they should make a practice of helping those who cannot pay them back (cf. Luke 14:12ff). This was counter-cultural when he said it and it is counter-cultural now. In fact, it is also counter-intuitive; by nature, we are prone to “look after number one” and as an individualistic capitalist and consumerist society we have really made this our mantra, so to see love-of-neighbour in the community really does warm my heart.

As the debates rage in the [virtual] corridors of power about when and how to end the lockdown, the ordinary man-on-the-street (though obviously not on the street at the moment!) is also starting to wonder about “getting back to normal”. It is clear from the state of the economy that normal service will not simply resume when the government issues whatever kind of “all clear” it can muster, but it is my prayer that over the remaining weeks or months of lockdown, we are all able to pay proper attention to what really matters and determine, insofar as it depends on us, what the new normal should look like. My own lockdown experience hasn’t yet given me more space and time for reflection than usual because I’ve chosen, like many, I am sure, to catch up on some necessary but largely non-urgent tasks. But I urge myself and everyone: let us make time now to think hard about the world, society and family-life we want to see when the restrictions are lifted again. And may that be more like the kingdom of heaven as outlined by its king, Jesus Christ.

May God watch over you, keep you safe and draw you deeper into his love.

Originally published in the Widford Parish Magazine, May 2020

Coronavirus is here, and life will never be the same again.  In reflecting on the current situation and remembering back to what I heard from various news sources in the early days, I couldn’t help noticing that what we are seeing is a kind of repeat of a most famous and paradigmatic Bible story.  It all begins with a forbidden food.  Initial suggestions were that the virus jumped from animals to humans who were stallholders at a clandestine seafood market which was illegally selling wild animals.  The disease appears to be very similar to coronavirus diseases found in bats and pangolins.  Quite possibly the first victim was a man tempted by bat soup or pangolin curry, even though he knew it was off limits.

From there, the virus has spread quickly (scientists do not yet know its main method of multiplication) so that thousands upon thousands of people worldwide have been infected.  But critically, even those who have not been directly infected are finding their lives seriously affected as attempts to contain the disease themselves significantly curtail human freedoms and bring their own negative consequences to our community life.  And so it is that I find the name rather curious and coincidental, too.  The scientists would really like us to call the disease “Covid-19”, or even better, “Sars-CoV-2”, but they’ve got no hope of that happening.  We’ve grown used to calling this specific disease by the generic term “coronavirus”.  It comes from the characteristic appearance of the virus which has a kind of crown (Latin “corona”).  And here’s the thing: there’s a sense in which this horrible virus is trying to be, and causing us to behave as if it is, somehow in control – as if it is the almighty king of the world, complete with crown, a lust for death and the power to bring nations to their knees.

What we have seen is one man’s temptation for forbidden food bringing an enslavement from which we cannot escape and giving birth to fear and the kind of selfishness that looks after number one with complete disregard of the other.  The spirit of people made in the image of God to relate to one another has been crushed by enforced isolation.  Marital harmony and family unity have been wrenched and twisted and snapped under pressures for which they have been ill-prepared in an increasingly individualistic society.  There is a new king in town, and the human race, having followed the false promise of freedom and life, finds itself imprisoned, fearful and dying.  There can be no doubt: we need saving from what we have brought upon ourselves.

And so it is with joy I read the Bible’s message that there is a saviour.  The world’s true king has come into the heart of our suffering and experienced it for himself.  Just as it is likely that a close companion of ours will pass the virus to us, we read that he was betrayed by a friend.  Abandoned by his loved ones, the hope of many was suffocated and sealed in isolation in tomb of rock.  Yet on the third day, his tomb was empty.  He was alive, and death itself lay dying at his feet.  His promise was eternal life to all who believe – to all who repent of their lust for self-rule and submit once again to his authority as the divinely-appointed ruler of the nations.  The virus may wear a crown, but there is a greater King.

May you know the hope of the resurrection and the joy of the kingdom of God.

Originally published in the Hunsdon Village News and Widford Parish Magazine, April 2020.