Our prayers are with all our partners around the world in these days of the Corona virus. As many of you know, the Cathedral in Coventry is closed for worship as well as to visitors, so we are live streaming our services via the Cathedral Facebook page twice a day – and every day we are praying for all of you, using the CCN cycle of prayer. It’s strange that although we feel more separated from those who are usually close to us, we feel closer to those who are usually farther away! I have really enjoyed joining the German CCN for their Litany prayers at noon German time – to see faces on zoom not just from Germany but also from Austria, Poland, South Africa and other places has been a real and unexpected blessing!
I would like to share with you a little news from the Cathedral, and a few ideas that have been important to us through this time. Of course, this is a challenging time for ministry and mission for many of us. With the Cathedral closed, many of our activities have ceased and so most of our staff team have been put on the UK ‘furlough’ scheme, where the government pays the wages of staff who are unable to work because of the travel restrictions, with only a few others still working from home. However, the Cathedral has built up enough reserves over the last few years to enable us to weather this particular storm, and we are hopeful we can emerge as a Cathedral able to continue to offer a significant ministry in Peace and Reconciliation in the days beyond lockdown.
It seems to me that in times such as this, we can often discover what we are really about: if you want to know what’s really going on inside someone, it’s said, give them a sharp kick and see what splashes out. This experience is a sharp kick to us all – so what’s splashing out? Well, some of what’s splashing out is real anxiety about what we’re for – when we can’t get together for worship and fellowship, what are we are about? There’s also some real anxiety about the future – this is a time of economic deprivation as well as deprivation of other sorts, and we are going to be hard pressed when it’s all over to keep going with our various ministries. However, there is also a lot of love, and hope, and truth splashing out. In churches and Christian ministries – as well as in many other places – there is a real flourishing of care for one another, and of a determination not to give up hope. And one area where we as Christians have something important to offer is our willingness and ability to name to reality of loss: our faith embraces crucifixion as well as resurrection, and so we are not afraid to speak of death, but always in the context of Christian hope. We are perhaps slower to speak about the God of healing, in the context of a virus which seems to be no respecter of persons or of faith: we give thanks for those in the healing professions, but know that we all need to be faithful but not foolhardy in our way of living.
There is something very powerful about the ministry of reconciliation at the moment: times of fear can cause us to turn against one another, in a xenophobic reaction. I’ve been struck in our daily recitation of the Litany how each line speaks into our situation. We pray for a healing of the wounds of history through our prayer against the divisions spawned by hatred, as we are tempted to blame others for what is happening. As we scramble for PPE and medical supplies, we need to resist the urge to covet the possessions of others. And as we try balance economic prosperity and health, we need to avoid greed. We can find it only too easy to be envious of other places who seem to be handling the crisis better than we are – and we always have to remember those on the margins of society who suffer more than we do in the pandemic. In times of isolation, we may be tempted treat others as less than human, in either our imagination or in our personal relationships. And lastly, of course, this virus reminds us that we are not God – there are things we cannot control.
This feels a little like the time of Exile to me: when the children of Israel found themselves singing the songs of Zion in a strange land. We are in a strange land: much that was familiar has been taken away from us, and we are having to find new ways of sustaining our relationships and our faith. We are having to reimagine so much of what our faith mean to us, and learning important lessons in the meantime, which we hope will bear fruit for the future. In exile, God’s people started to look at their roots, and rediscovered a belief in a God of order and sovereignty, who was ultimately to be trusted. That’s true for us, too.
It’s quite a troubling image for a Cathedral committed to reconciliation. Some look for a plea for reconciliation in the gaze of the devil – but there is no clear answering response from the angel. However, the angel’s face looks out at the world with compassion and sadness, despite the victory which is shown in his posture. The angel says to us, victory is God’s, but it doesn’t wipe away the pain.
We look and pray for the triumph of hope over the evil of this virus, but we know there will remain searing loss in its wake. Our task as a Cathedral, and as a Community of the Cross of Nails, is one of re-imagination – to begin to sow seeds of hope for the creative rebuilding of society beyond these days of exile. That rebuilding will express the hope of God’s future, his purposes for us all – but it will not eradicate the loss which will remain. So we pray for an honest hope which reaches us through pain, and leads us towards a new future.
“And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his anger fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fight back, but they were defeated …” Rev 12.7,8