It was only a month ago that the UK was urged to concentrate on hand washing for at least 20 seconds to avoid or remove Coronavirus contamination. I think it was at that point that soap started to be in short supply and antibacterial hand gel disappeared from the supermarket shelves! Now we are washing our hands so often that they have gone dry and there is a run on hand creams and moisturisers!
It is only 3 weeks ago that the UK was taken into lockdown with isolation at home, only essential travel allowed for food, medical supplies, exercise and work, if work can’t be carried out from home; self isolation for those over 70 and those with health conditions and with virus symptoms.
Delivery slots for food are practically non existent, some essentials like flour are difficult to obtain, many are impacted financially and with job cuts and many are seeking Government financial help. NHS staff; care workers; teachers and the numerous key workers, many in lower tiers of pay; are all battling this pandemic on our behalf. Our lives have changed substantially and we are saddened every day by the stories of the increasing numbers who have contracted this virus, those who have become seriously ill and those who have died, but gladdened with the stories of those who are recovering, our Prime Minister amongst them.
Communities of course have come together, volunteers to help are heart warming and welcome, as we seek to support one another and our key workers in this pandemic deserve our sincere thanks and praise.
How is life for you in lockdown?
In amongst the crisis that surrounds us and encroaches upon us, Spring has surfaced. The days are warm, the sky is so blue (is that because we are not travelling in cars, buses, trains, ships and planes?), the birds are singing and it is so quiet. Across the road from me a family have come to visit grandparents, talking to them from the road and bringing them food. We are working out ways of connecting, supporting and talking to one another and technology is playing a huge part for us. I have learnt about Zoom and more about Skype and have read books and scripture, cooked adventurously, prayed, worked in the garden and enjoyed the privilege of walking outside for relaxation and exercise.
There is a contrast between the crisis and the battle zone and the life experienced by many. Here in Holy week, we go from Maundy Thursday to Easter day, from distress to joy, from brokenness to healing, from imprisonment to salvation. There is contrast to our lives rooted in the salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Saviour.
Jesus’ friends gather around the passover table, reclining together as they take part in the ritual meal remembering and celebrating the release by God, through Moses, of their ancestors from the imprisonment of slavery to salvation as a free nation. Here is how that moment is described in Exodus 12:1-13.
“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbour in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”.
This lamb ‘without blemish’, innocent and without fault, is sacrificed for the lives of the ‘congregation of Israel’, so that they may go free and the plague will pass over them. Jesus, God’s son, here in our world, sits at the meal with his friends to remember and celebrate this ‘passover sacrifice to the Lord’ where the people of Israel were saved from the imprisonment of slavery by God and he takes the unleavened bread at the meal and says these words to them recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 26:26-28
‘While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” ‘
Jesus replaces the lamb ‘without blemish’, innocent and without fault as the one and only sacrifice for you and for me in order that the imprisonment of sins and wrongs of the world can be forgiven and we can be saved from them.
Maybe at this time in isolation we could read those words of Jesus from Matthew and reflect on the hymn ‘Behold’ the Lamb’ by Keith & Kristyn Getty as we receive Christ, bring him our sins and receive forgiveness to be freed and change.
We are living in a lockdown where many people are making sacrifices for us and we may be making sacrifices for others. Sacrifices are made through the desire to make things better, to not see suffering, to release others from bondage perhaps and to show love and care towards others. We are hearing stories now of medical staff who have lost their lives through Coronavirus whilst trying to care for patients.
Jesus walked to his crucifixion in order that the world may know a better way of living and be released from those things that are not right. He walked out of pure love and compassion, so that the world could be released from the burden of wrongs and of evil and know God’s forgiveness and peace and a new way of living with God our Father, through Jesus Christ his son, in the power of his Holy Spirit. His sacrifice means that we can be right with God to do the right things in our world. We are saved to him. This is what Mark wrote in 15:25-39
‘It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.’
‘The Death of Jesus When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” ‘
The crucifixion of Jesus brings home to us the deep deep love of our Father in heaven, as we show resolve in this crisis we can know that love and be strengthened by it. This is the song written by Stuart Townend and sung by WorshipMob.
I was once told by a Chaplain in a hospital that in all the suffering she encountered, she also encountered the deep deep love of our Father and I have also found this. There is always a Resurrection moment after a time of change and suffering. We also will experience and look forwad to this resurrection moment. By coming to Christ and professing belief and faith in him as God’s Son, we come to belong to Christ, it is he who cleanses us in front of God, our Father and in Christ we can know resurrection in this life and the next.
There will be an end to the pandemic at some time, but perhaps our lives will be different, perhaps they will be deeper in Christ. John writes in chapter 20.
Jn 20:1 The Resurrection of Jesus
‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.’
‘But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.’
What joy that resurrection moment is!
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
May you know joy and peace this Easter.