Language is important. We are told to mean what we say and say what we mean!
This is important in public health or emergency situations where messages need to be delivered succinctly, accurately, and often. Oh, and they have to be true. People then assess the risk and make judgements about what they do. Behind the words and the messages people also assess whether the messenger is trustworthy and credible. People consciously or unconsciously look for four factors (I’ve heard and read recently) – empathy and caring, honesty and openness, dedication and commitment, and competence and expertise. The irony, I’ve thought, is that these are not things one just ‘turns on’ in a crisis. They can be remembered and learnt but surely we will listen to someone who displays these characteristics all the time and not just in a crisis?
So I hear quite frequently the sentiment in the current situation, “We are all in the same boat”. That Planet Earth is facing a global pandemic is undeniable. But the metaphor is seriously flawed. We are not in the same boat. We are in the same storm. We are in the same storm in many different boats. I have wondered how Charlotte and I would have coped had this situation happened in our first parish with 5 small children in a small house, pre-internet! Not well, I think.
And the world is recognising this more and more as it looks at the economic projections from COVID-19, fears what happens when the virus reaches war zones and major refugee areas and camps, and is already noting the differences emerging in countries with good health and economic support systems and those with poor or non existent ones. We are aware in our street or social network that people and families can be having very different experiences. I heard a little while back where one family with illness that made a family member vulnerable discovered that neighbours on both sides of them had contracted COVID-19. Tense times. Then the news came. One neighbour completely recovers. The other neighbour dies. Three houses on the same street are dealing with this storm very differently.
Jesus, a few hours before his arrest, told his disciples – and this message was for all his disciples – that in his Father’s house are many rooms and he was going to prepare a place for us and he would be back to walk with us here and one day take us there. I wonder whether those who resist this message see the ‘Father’s house’ as ‘lockdown’ or a prison and Jesus, our ‘Parole Officer’ or ‘Social Worker’ or ‘Policeman’ walking beside us?
The cry of the heart and of this pandemic moment is ‘Freedom!’. (Anyone think a certain movie?! 😉 ) We say it is what we want when often what is meant is that we want our freedom to do as we wish, not your freedom to do that (because you might impact me in a way I don’t want).
Jesus’ message and promise was given to comfort not control, to lift up not lock down, and, above all, to set people free by promising to remain with us. His love and presence – remember his first words to us are always ‘I love you’? – give us the perspective to face any storm, on any street, in any country. Jesus always speaks with empathy, caring, honesty, openness, dedication, commitment, competence and expertise because he knows what life and living is all about. He knows suffering and dying. He knows life’s meaning and purpose. We’re the ones who are confused and searching.
The Apostle Paul would remind the Galatians, ‘For freedom, Christ has set us free’ (Galatians 5:1a). Yes, indeed! Now what will we do with this freedom?