Friday, April 17, 2020

Plague Journal: Week 5

Plague Journal: Week 1Week 2, Week 3, Week 4

On Thursday the government announced that lockdown will continue for another three weeks, as it is too early to relax the measures designed to combat coronavirus. Meanwhile, political leaders are under pressure to make their exit plans public. There is a growing realisation that the economic and social costs of a long-continued lockdown could prove disastrous. 

After last week's busyness on the ministry videos front, this week was a bit quieter. I prepared and recorded Easter Sunday talks on 'The sign of the prophet Jonah' and 'The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit'. I also made a 'Prayer Meeting' video on 'Strengthened with all power'. Pre-recording videos that are then uploaded to YouTube has meant I'm no longer battling with the frustrations of Facebook Go Live. 

But it makes doing the talks feel even more remote. Rattling on at my mobile phone screen isn't the same as preaching to a gathered congregation. I miss the personal interaction you get when preaching and, of course other aspects of gathered worship that can't be replicated online. A pastor friend of mine felt the same when we spoke on the phone the other day. 

We haven't worked out a way of singing together. It seems odd to record myself praying for people to view later, so I don't do that. The Lord's Supper is for the gathered church, 'when you come together', and we're not in a position to gather at the moment. On Easter Sunday evening I mused, 

There was no livestreaming of the body that stirred and stone that
moved on the first day of the week.

Nothing so remote as that. Only astonished eyes to see and fearful
tongues to tell, "The Lord is risen indeed".

Yes, there are some pros. Viewing stats suggest more people are watching the ministry videos than would ordinarily gather for our meetings. We've had some good chats and prayer times via Skype, but 'virtual church' is no substitute for the real thing. A number of our people aren't internet savvy, but recordings of my messages are being placed on CD for self-isolating members and friends of the fellowship to listen to. 

When speaking to some of our people by phone it has been encouraging to hear that they are bearing up well with the Lord's help and that others from church keeping in touch with them. 'Blessed be the tie that binds'. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, 'But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavoured the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face'. (1 Thessalonians 2:17). 

Monday was a Bank Holiday, so Sarah and I went for a local walk along the bridle path between Westbury and Bratton. It was a lovely day and the route afforded a magnificent view of the town's White Horse. (See pic below). Slides shared at the daily Downing Street press briefings continue to show that the South West has the lowest number of hospital admissions due to Covid-19, which is something else to be thankful for, along with the beautiful countryside. 

I've been able to make a little more headway with Robert Letham's Systematic Theology. In last week's journal entry I was on p. 252, which was more or less in the middle of a very helpful chapter on The interpretation of Scripture, towards the end of 'Part 2: The Word of God'. Now I've just finished 'Part 3: The Works of God', with chapters 9 & 10 on Creation and Providence (up to p. 311). I'm really enjoying Letham's work, which is well written, biblically insightful, theologically rich and historically literate. Unlike some rather dry systematics, you get the impression that this one was written by a human being. 

He has a word of reassurance for devotees of disaster movies, "The Noahic covenant counters...the fear of universal annihilation through a collision with a large asteroid". (p. 295). Well, that's one less thing to worry about. There are even shafts of humour, "He [God] determined that it should rain this morning in Bridgend, Wales - he frequently decides this." (p. 297).

But there are also poignant passages where the author reflects on divine providence in relation to 'Evils, atrocities and major disasters'. We live in a world where trains crash and aeroplanes fall from the sky. Letham recalls hearing the sound of the Harrow and Wealdstone train crash of October 8, 1952 where 112 people died and 350 were injured. He was not yet five years old when he and his mother heard a noise like the 'clash of a large pile of saucepans' twice over. A classmate was deprived of his father on that day.

Were Letham writing today, he might have added coronavirus to the mix. But God is sovereign in all things and nothing happens apart from the outworking of his will. The 'tapestry' of providence may look like a disordered mess of threads to us, but 'God sees the whole in one instantaneous act of cognition.' The resolution of the mystery of providence with all its riddles and enigmas is not for this age, 'being eschatological, at the last judgement, when God sets all things right.' (p. 310).

Until that day the church in this world of suffering and grief cries out, 'How long, O Lord?'

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