The 5th Sunday after Pentecost

I am hearing quite a bit about how the world may change because of COVID-19. How cities might be redesigned or repurposed so that work places and living spaces and amenities are much closer together. I hadn’t appreciated that the history behind the design of cities over the centuries had often been in response to diseases, plagues, and pandemics. At street level, the talk is how homes might be redesigned to incorporate work and living spaces … one is almost tempted to say ‘again’. About schools and education, I’ve heard claims about a lost generation not being at school and perspectives that education is ‘more than a production line in a classroom’ and I think we will be surprised at how well young people will respond educationally. I hear of a new appreciation for previously ‘not so much thought about’ work such as how we get our food – farming, manufacture, transport, and retail – and also, of course, our health care. There are comments about how people have responded collectively and decisively to a threat and whether we can take that collective energy and deal with other global problems (that we have been talking about for decades). I hear both a utopian and dystopian future.

Personally I hear (and ask) about travelling, seeing family, how people are faring with work, dealing with their health, and the countless adjustments to how we do things. How long will people wipe down their groceries? And of course, there is the Church and worship and singing and hymnals and weddings and funerals and the folk who are there every service and those who are staying at home. I hear both hope and confidence and hesitancy and concern.

Then over twenty four hours I was confronted with – I wasn’t searching for them – three items. The first was a verse in Proverbs. ‘Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring’ (Proverbs 27:1 ESV). The second was part of James’ letter to the diaspora Christians, ‘… yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes’ (James 4:14 ESV). The third was a joke. ‘How do you make God laugh? … Tell him your plans.’ And, for me, they coalesced, as it were, in the paradox that our days are in God’s hands and that part of being responsible – following Jesus – is working out how to serve those around us in the short term and long term. So we feed our children healthy food and speak life giving words – one very much deals with the here and now and the other deals with now and long term – in fact even eternity.

COVID-19 reminds us that our behaviour is always in response to people, relationships, and circumstances. Before the pandemic we probably had a greater illusion of autonomy and control. But for now we are more conscious that we respond to events whether that be keeping healthy for today or designing cities that will shape living for decades.

As we look back over the centuries and how the world has changed for Christians there is one constant – the presence of the risen Lord Jesus. If death’s power is defeated then living has a new meaning and that is what each generation discovers whether their days are filled with prosperity and peace, corruption and cruelty, health and happiness, fragility and fear or any combination of these. Jesus’ life giving presence and his Word become the starting point for everything – each day, our meaning and purpose, our living and dying, and how we prepare for the future. Our behaviour is always responsive to something. For Christians that something is a someone – the gracious Lord Jesus, who forgives us and blesses us so we can receive each day as a gift and seek to serve others with it – short term and long term. He is both our foundation and our guide so that we can best respond to whatever is happening in the world. GS