With the increasing calls for an Inquiry, and Parliamentary Select Committees now examining why things were done when they were done, we see that we have moved from 'crisis into consolidation' mode, as some trauma theorists would call it. This marks the shift into a time of reflection after a traumatic experience, where the human need to ponder what has been happening, begins to kick into action. I along with many others have begun to reflect in some depth on what has been witnessed.
One of the things I have recalled lately, is how when the emerging crisis became more and more evident last year, I began to steel myself for some difficult questions to be asked about God. In particular I found myself preparing for the hardest questions of all; where is God in this, why is God doing this, is there even a God.
With an increasingly heavy heart, I began considering appropriate answers whilst also watching the curve of the wave move upwards, and the arrival of emails asking us to close the church doors, to cancel the chalice, and then from the government to simply stay at home.
Looking back however, I have realised that the doubting questions I had prepared for, never actually got asked. In fact I repeatedly witnessed something quite different.
I remember reading once how during the two world wars, the churches were fuller than they had ever been and similarly, in all my interactions over this past year … it isn’t doubt or scepticism that came to the fore … but rather a pronounced and wide open need and a rekindled longing for God among people far beyond the regular Sunday congregations.
It is said that the Gospel is bad news before it is good news. The bad news is in the realisation of how hard it is to be human, how devastating griefs and losses can be, into which the Good News of the Gospel then speaks. And yes, at the numerous funerals I have taken over this past year, I have noticed that there has no longer been any awkwardness at the Christian theology of an afterlife or hope. Heads have bowed willingly, with a new humility, when it has been time to pray. I have had more people being open to the lighting of candles, visiting the churches, and asking us to pray for them far more readily than usual. When I say, can I keep you in my prayers - there has no longer been any hesitation but an emphaticlly grateful yes in reply.
As I reflect on this shift, I wonder whether it is connected to how very humbling this past year has been. No castles, no money, no power, no status, and no man-made structures have been enough to stop the realisation of our need. Seemingly monolithic social and political constructs have been paused, dismantled, even revealed as flawed and fragile.
A while generation of human beings have seen their vunerability, their fragility, and their helplessness is a new way … and the result of this is a shift into a genuine humility … which has brought a number to turn, in greater or lesser degrees, towards their God, their creator, the source of love and their very life.
This weekend’s readings speak well into all this, because they are all about the universal human longing and need of God - whether it is recognised or not.
Though that passage from Genesis has been at the root of rather a lot of damaging and uncompromising Christian theology, it does teach us something vital. The rabbinic reading of Genesis doesn’t recognise Augustine’s catastrophic guilt-ridden fall, but rather a necessary development from innocence to realism and the allegory illustrates how human beings, when things are going well, have a propensity to forget their need for God, they try to go it alone, to allow their desires to remain unchecked … and so we have this story of God being forgotten until he is heard - in their hour of need - walking along in the cool of the garden.
It is this inclination to turn away from God that drives the Psalmist to continually cry out in the psalms of lament - and there in Psalm 130 the author pleads with his God to hear him, to not forget him, to always be there for him. Who is the Psalmist really writing for would be a good question to ask - does God need reminding, or is it the human being? There is sometimes a muddle here, that Paul, in this reading from 2 Corinthians, believes that God seeks to resolve in the sending of his son in the Incarnation.
‘Everything is for your sake’,
‘so we do not lose heart’
‘we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens’.
This hopeful text, that seeks to console and encourage a community in their need, by meeting their longing for God.
The need for God observed over this past year, however, has not come from a strict reading from the scriptures, it has not come from years of formation in the tradition … it has come from humility and humility alone, a deep gut wrench for God.
Huamnity has been forced into a new humility in this past year which has been hard and uncompromising. Yet for some, an understanding has come with it, that God is here with us, not forcing this upon us. And great number are saying that they are emerging from this year with a stronger faith, not weaker. A greater sense of God, a greater understanding of the importance and place of prayer. There seems to be a more confident longing for the things of faith and this brings a call for us to be more confident as the church.
The landscape is ripe for us as individual Christians and as the church in this place. To open our doors more widely, to broaden our invitation more inclusively, and to speak confidently about what we believe and why it has made such a different to our lives and the world around us ... when things are bad, and, when things are good.
The Rev'd Arwen Folkes