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How can we keep from singing? (June 2021)

Dear Friends

We continue on our journey as the ebb and flow of the unlocking entices us and troubles us.

How much will be possible? What are the acceptable risks, and what are things still beyond us? What is beginning? What is gone? What might we retrieve? And as we travel this road we become so deeply conscious of those on the way too. Our hearts go out to India and its people struggling with all we have feared, yet with so few of the resources we have depended on. I cannot imagine the rising horror of scouring the city for a tank of oxygen to let a loved one breathe.

As I write this the explosions continue as Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Jews, ignite again the embers of a bitterness generations in the making; a seemingly endless cycle of attack and retribution, of hatred and of fear. And, of course, there are the hurts and losses much closer to home. The empty chairs that once were filled, the laughter ceased, the regrets, the worries, the exhaustion.

In the midst of such things, I have been prompted by a poem written by George Herbert (who died 1st March, 1633) to return to Paul’s letter to the Colossians. There is a little phrase Paul offers in what becomes the third verse of the third chapter in our Bibles (Paul never wrote in chapters and verses of course):

“…for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

We have been much hidden away this past many months. Indeed, my entire ministry with you all thus far, except for a brief interlude late last summer, has never involved sharing in congregational singing, or being in worship unmasked, or welcoming you to the manse, or regular pastoral visits to your homes or your hospital bedsides.

Many of you I have only ever met on a screen or in a phone call. And that sense of being cut off is amplified as we think of family and friends near and dear but held far off, and those in care homes out of reach.

What might Paul mean? And how might this be a word of comfort and reassurance?

The death Paul speaks of is a dying to a way of life which pushes God away. It is the old life in which the welcome arms God holds out to greet us with are barely noticed or, if noticed at all, are brushed aside. Determined to rescue us, God has lived into our world in Jesus, died our death upon his cross and risen from the grave to assure us that nothing, now, need chase God’s love away.

But to enter into this love, we need to let go of much. The self-assurance that entices us to be ruled by our own desires must be put aside. The domination of others over us, the controlling influence of the consumerist culture we breathe each moment, must no longer hold us fast. The fears that crowd in upon us, that stifle us, can be laid down.

And when we do this and let it be done within us by the Holy Spirit, our lives become hidden with Christ in God. It is as if we snuggle down into the safest embrace we will ever feel, into the deepest love we will ever encounter, into the most gentle and most unflinching arms ever to hug us close.

How, then, can we keep from singing?

Nothing distress you,
nothing affright you,
everything passes,
God will abide.
Patient endeavour
accomplishes all things;
who God possesses
needs naught beside.
(Teresa of Avila, 1515-1582, number 548 in Rejoice and Sing).

Yours in Christ,