I want to go back to school! Charlotte and I heard this week of the BBC’s initiative for children in its ‘lockdown learning scheme’. Having Sir David Attenborough teach Geography or Brian Cox Science or hear Jodie Whittaker (from Doctor Who) read stories or Sergio Aguero teach Spanish would be a blast. Anything to help children maintain a focus that isn’t stuck to the four walls they see has got to be a good thing.
Congregations are meeting online for Sunday worship, daily worship, Bible Studies, fellowship times, youth times, Confirmation classes and the marvel of video conferencing is that it is interactive and participatory. Viewing or listening on demand is not unimportant – we all have grown up happily able to pick our Bible and read ‘on demand’ and take in God’s Word on our schedule – but there simply is another dimension when the family gathers around the dinner table, the (monastic?) community attends chapel, and congregations gather together to hear God’s Word and to use water, bread and wine as Jesus told us. This participation – together with the coughs and dropped books, sighs and burps, snores and shhhs, with the smells of flowers and the wails of sirens when they go by – anchors us in that time and that place with that group of people. In many ways, it is an irrepeatable moment.
We are not in a ‘new normal’, as they say, but I heard this week the phrase a ‘new abnormal’. It is because we are in an unusual time with an airborne virus, with our knowledge of science and transmission, and our correct desire to minimise the deaths that are creating moments that make a couple in their 60s wistful for school. But the abnormal is still that … abnormal. And we would no doubt learn Geography, Science, and Spanish and enjoy the book if the regular teachers did it because they work hard at the teaching but the learning has always been about what I (we) bring to the moment.
And with our church life, well it has always been abnormal! Think about it. Christians are followers of a man that the world says has been dead for nearly 2,000 years. The world says Jesus is dead, his teachings may have some merit, his followers can be both good but also crazy and control freaks but as long as they are generally decent citizens they can have their peculiar ways. Christians say that Jesus is not dead anymore – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah! – and following Jesus has influenced western civilisation these past twenty centuries – but most of all Jesus calls his people together in little groups and still comes and serves them, walks with them, helps them, suffers with them, and gives them a perspective that affects all of their lives. The clergy change, the buildings can come and go, but where the words are spoken accurately about Jesus and where water, bread and wine are used as Jesus says, there he is in the midst of the people gathered around and hidden in that group is the Church. And that simply isn’t normal for this world!
Jesus walked to Emmaus on the afternoon of his resurrection and shared himself and served two disciples. It is always personal and close with Jesus. And Jesus is still walking with his people today – through closed doors – even if they are just pacing around the house. This isn’t virtual Jesus. This is Jesus as he always has been – human and divine, physical and spiritual – but always for you! GS