The ‘new normal’ is a phrase that has entered our vocabulary in the past few months to convey how life will be different because of COVID-19. What will this new normal look like? Will more people work flexible hours or work from home? Will bikes and walking overtake our use of public transport? Will we forever have to social distance in supermarkets and restaurants? For these things and many others, we will just have to wait and see how the new world order will pan out.
Have you noticed how the news channels and newspapers get fixated on one topic at the expense of everything else that is going on in the world? Over the past year we’ve heard about nothing but Brexit, then everything centred on Harry and Megan ending their royal duties and fleeing to Canada, followed by weeks concentrating on the General Election and for the last few months everything has been about COVID-19. To hit the headlines most of the news presented has been negative in one form or another. Now Brexit, Harry and Megan and the General Election have become today’s ‘fish and chip paper’ and in time so will Coronavirus. The news will then be preoccupied with something else.
‘…your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.’ (Psalm 139:10)
In his 1939 Christmas address, King George VI spoke of his faith in God’s leading. World War 2 had begun and with all the concern that lay ahead the king concluded his message with lines written by Minnie Louise Haskins some 30 years earlier:
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’
‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand’ (1 Peter 5:6 NIVUK)
In leading up to Peter’s statement to humble ourselves he has told us to ‘clothe ourselves with humility…because God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.’ (1 Peter 5:5) The question that comes to my mind is how can I humble myself? I didn’t have to look very far because Peter gives me the answer in verse 7, ‘Cast all your anxiety on him [God] because he cares for you.’ (1 Peter 5:7) Peter’s basic point is that we humble ourselves by casting all our anxiety on God.
‘Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.’ (Psalms 119:105 NIVUK)
One experience of lockdown is that we are thrown out of our normal routines because we are not able to do what we would usually do in our regular weekly schedule. This may present opportunities to spend time on other things, which in turn may mean we have more time to read the Bible than we have in normal circumstances.
Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ (Luke 23:34 (NIVUK)
Jesus…said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ (John8:12 NIVUK)
‘I can’t breathe’ was not said by a Covid-19 patient urgently needing a ventilator but were the final words of George Floyd, a black man who died last week at the hands of a white policeman, sparking violent protests in the USA and demonstrations in the UK. There is no place for racism and the injustice it brings in its wake within our society.
‘If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.’ (Matthew 5:41 NIVUK)
On one of my brief forays out of the house to get some food, I was rushing around the local Tesco Express to get what I needed as quickly as possible so I could get in and out without meeting too many people in the aisles. This coronavirus makes you do some strange things. All was going well until at the self-checkout I heard the mechanical voice say, ‘unexpected item in the bagging area – assistance required,’ and over came the checkout assistant to sort me out. As I stepped back the required two metres, he smiled at me and automatically I just smiled back.
‘Listen, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed’ (1 Corinthians 15:51 NIVUK)
This verse is often put up in church crèches, however, that’s not quite what Paul had in mind. He is telling us a mystery. This doesn’t mean something which is mysterious or weird, rather it means something that has been hinted at in the past in God’s revelation, but was hidden and muffled, and is now open and to be declared.
‘Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases’ (Psalm 103:1-3 NIVUK)
It can be a struggle sometimes to find the energy to pray especially when we’ve been on lockdown and out of our normal routines for some time and we can’t even remember what day of the week it is. What can we do if we are finding apathy in our relationship with God and in particular in our prayer life? I’m not a great expert in prayer, in fact, more often than not I struggle with praying, and when I struggle, I often turn to the opening verses of Psalm 103 for help.
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptised in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:13 NIVUK)
In Corinth, unity in the church had been fractured at the point where it so often breaks down – where the focus is on human beings rather than Christ (1 Corinthians 1:12). Within the one church of Jesus Christ, rival groups were quarrelling with each other over their allegiances to different leaders. To address this Paul, with three pointed questions, shows us the things that will promote unity in the church and they all centre on Jesus.
‘And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.’ (Hebrews 10:24–25 NIVUK)
Since being in lockdown we’ve had to do things differently. Events like One world: Together at home and The Big Night In brought music and comedy direct from the artists’ homes into ours. Keeping in touch with family and friends has meant many of us having crash courses on Skype and Zoom. For faith groups, holding meetings and maintaining contact has also presented a challenge.
‘Taking him by the right hand, [Peter] helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.’ (Acts 3:7 NIVUK)
This is the first miracle the apostles performed after the resurrection of Jesus and it points us in at least three directions: upward, forward and inward.
‘When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled… Jesus wept… Jesus, once more deeply moved…’ (John 11:33,35,38 New International Version UK)
Love in the Bible is never passive, it’s always active. To love our neighbour is to get involved in their lives and to help them, to support them and value them. This has to be important to me because it is important to Jesus.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;’
(Psalm 23:4 ESV)
Sadly, the world-renowned, glamorous and quintessentially British, RHS Chelsea Flower Show has been cancelled for 2020 due to Government advice about Coronavirus (COVID-19). This is a shame for me as my interest in it had been piqued by the plan to have the ancient text from Psalm 23, found in the Bible, portrayed as a garden. I was so intrigued that I did some digging.
With many people following the government’s guidelines to self-isolate at home, every day can feel like Groundhog Day where we are going stir crazy wondering what to do.
‘they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.’ (Mark 11:7 NIVUK)
Have you ever wondered why Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a little donkey? Certainly, it fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 but what was its significance? Let me suggest a couple of things to reflect on.
‘…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8:28 NIVUK)
On the one hand Paul’s statement in the scripture quoted above is very encouraging, but sometimes it can be hard to believe. It is a bold, powerful and strong promise that leaves no room for halfway trust.
‘Be kind and compassionate to one another.’ (Ephesians 4:32 NIVUK)
When TV personality Philip Schofield announced on This Morning that he is gay he accompanied the announcement with an emotional Instagram message which concluded with him writing ‘Please be kind, especially to my family.’ Following the tragic suicide of former Love Island presenter Caroline Flack, her close friend who replaced her on the show, Laura Whitmore, paid tribute to her on BBC Radio 5 Live and pleaded with listeners ‘to be kind.’ This was an echo of Caroline’s own message posted a few months before her death – ‘in a world where you can be anything, be kind.’
Sajid Javid made history as the first British-Asian Chancellor of the Exchequer – but may now be remembered as the second to never deliver a Budget. Following a cabinet reshuffle next week’s budget falls to the new Chancellor Rishi Sunak, but will it contain good news or bad? Will there be the good news of a rise in the National Insurance threshold, saving many workers around £100 a year? Or the bad news of a fuel duty rise?
‘What do you want me to do for you?’ (Mark 10:51 NIVUK)
If Jesus were to ask you the same question he asked Bartimaeus, how do you think you would answer? James and John had heard that question before. Jesus asked it of them when they approached him on the way to Jerusalem, and they responded by requesting, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’ (Mark 10:37) To which Jesus said they didn’t know what they were asking for (Mark 10:38). Bartimaeus, on the other hand, knew what he was asking for and answered, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ (Mark 10:51)