Right from the start of this pandemic we have seen tensions between those who have simply done what they have been told by the authorities (politicians, doctors, scientists) and those who have resisted (conspiracies, fake news, or it's just a sniffle...). Mostly though in our relatively well ordered bit of the world when told to wash our hands for 20 seconds we complied, when the Prime Minister declared a shut down we stayed at home, when the Archbishops told the parish clergy of the Church of England to lock the buildings and minster to others from home we prayed in our Vicarages and learnt how to stream live services from our studies or sitting rooms. Some though rebelled - there were mass gatherings in churches - either in defiance of secular standards - 'You cannot tell a good Christian to stay away from worshipping God' or because of course God will protect us because we are the faithful ones and not like those others hiding in their houses...
These tensions about what is the appropriate response for a Christian in a time of crisis is not a new one and certainly Christians have always struggled with how far, or if at all, those of us who belong to Christ and the Kingdom of God should pay any heed to the rulings of earthly rulers. St Paul told us to pray for the secular leaders and authorities because their power is ultimately granted to them by God. Jesus told the Procurator, Pontius Pilate, that he would have no authority over him had it not come from God. Jesus was unjustly put to death but this was not to be taken as a reason or an excuse by his disciples to rise up in violent rebellion against Rome. But neither, on the other hand, did the earliest followers simply obey secular rulers - both Peter and Paul would die as martyrs for refusing to comply with the ruling authorities. They were not the only ones and Christians still die at the hands of enemies of the Church today.
So should we have locked the church buildings and gone home without a fuss? Were we simply rolling over to the Government's wishes and displaying moral cowardice? Best to hide and survive than die without trace? Are we scared of death and feeble in our faith in a God of resurrection? Of course some of that may be true. This virus is starting to test our faith - we are not used to regular plagues as our ancestors were and we were not ready for this sort of life experience. But to set against this are some other equally noble considerations. The Christian Church is not defined by any buildings and where two or three are gathered Christ is present in their midst. The platitude that a church is not the bricks and mortar but the people, the living community, who meet there has turned out to be true after all because churches haven't ceased to pray, or worship or serve their neighbours - the really important things such as our love for God and others, have been even more important and we have been creative in how we have carried on these essentials. We are living stones and part of a universal community which transcends places and even time. The virus and the regulations of the authorities has not stood in our way.
That divine call to love has been very much at the forefront of all our deliberations and actions at St Michael's. What is the Christian thing to do in these circumstances - how do we best support one another and our friends and neighbours? Trust in the Government is not very high - and it wasn't at the start of this crisis - so we didn't shut down just because the Prime Minister said so - we already heard what the leading scientists were saying and we exercised our Christian conscience in the interests of protecting those around us. So the interesting thing is that just as we think it is deeply Christian to save lives (physically, morally and spiritually) the Government told us to do just that too!
It has been the easing of the lockdown which has been the greater challenge it turns out - have we moved too quickly too soon? Now we are seeing a resurgence of the virus and how far should we be opening up our buildings once again just because the authorities say we can? We have exercised wider considerations. How far can we keep people safe? Some of the strategies we have adopted during the lockdown have been working well - some of these will become a feature of life in the future and we wish we had done them sooner. How do we keep the best of what we have but move forward, if indeed it is the right thing to open up the building? We have in fact moved more slowly and cautiously than others around us - we are still paying due attention to what the scientists are finding out and are trusting as much as we can to God's Wisdom. This is not to imply a judgement on others who have taken a different course of action because every community is unique and has to act in ways that best suit them. We are now giving ourselves options so we can be as flexible as possible to respond to what God demands of us.
'We are an Easter people' is our motto - God is a God of Life in all its fullness and if by curtailing our daily lives a bit we can help to protect the more vulnerable around us then we will gladly continue to do so. A long time ago a wise Christian lady told me: 'Live simply that others may simply live' - she meant I could give money or support to feed, clothe and house the destitute by giving up lots of possessions and living too extravagantly - but the same rule applies here too. After all, many of these restrictions really are for a season - albeit this is lasting years not days it seems. And through this we learn how to appreciate our God given gifts - to live each day at a time and appreciate the present moment instead of rushing onwards to grab the next thing.
Will we conform when the next lockdown comes? I won't be waiting for the Government alone to tell me how I should live - but will continue to wait on the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We are adjusting to the "Rule of Six" at the moment - but I can see that I should not meet with one group one day, another set the next, and yet another the day after that...I take this new legal regulation to mean that the virus is spreading and I can do my bit by not mixing too much myself and not encouraging others to widen their social circles. Now if the Archbishops or bishops had told us we were no longer allowed to pray - then that would be a crisis moment! As it is the Covid-19 restrictions do in fact enable us to pursue the demands of our Christian discipleship at a time of global emergency. So I will continue to wash my hands, keep 2m distance from others and wear my face covering when in confined spaces outside my home. It's very much about loving God, myself and neighbour and I know that what we suffer now is going to pale into insignificance compared with the blessings God bestows on us now and always.