Hello again, everyone
I’m writing this on a bitterly cold November day. It’s a pity it’s the eighth of September! I’ve been thinking a lot about the weather lately – well, we all have, and one of the things we’ve perhaps missed without noticing it has been the casual conversing with strangers about the weather which is such a deep cultural thing with all the people of this archipelago!
Jesus taught us to look at the weather. More specifically, he urged his disciples to read the times as they were accustomed to reading the weather. Anyone knows that weather forecasting is not a form of prophecy! But weather forecasting, like prophecy, is immersed in present realities, in the flux of change, in the pointing-out of trends and tendencies – and how the pre-exilic prophets indicted the trends of their times!
In a September that feels positively Novemberish, except for the days that feel like a late-delivered parcel of tepid summer, maybe it doesn’t seem odd to dwell on a thaw, when the winter is before us. In a sense, that’s precisely where we are as a society.
As I write, lockdowns are occurring and spreading – Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire, East Rernfrewshire, and, now Renfrewshire. As the First Minister reminded us, these things are not happening in the same context as they were in May; we have moved on. But we are justifiably anxious about the winter.
Yet there is a sense of a thaw. In a sense, it’s the privilege of the Church to be a marker of that. Cautiously, and with model care and responsibility, we are reopening. As we are called always to be, we are a sign that there is a “beyond” to this.
But then, our calling is to be a sign that there is always a “beyond” to things as they are. That’s the shape of the hope of the Kingdom. You can’t get as far into the Christian faith as the end of the Lord’s Prayer without discovering that!
So the focus of our prayers this week is the “Thaw.” In a sense, hope always makes things more complicated! Hopelessness is, at least, as simple as food in the freezer – nothing is happening, and nothing will happen until someone defrosts something. God is the God who defrosts the hopelessness of the world, and we are God’s witnesses to this, in Jesus Christ.
Yours in our shared calling,
He gives snow like wool;
he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.
He casts forth his ice like morsels;
who can stand before his cold?
He sends forth his word, and melts them;
he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow. Psalm 147: 16-18
And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, `It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, `It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. Matthew 16:1-3
Jesus taught us to seek
to read the signs of the times, Father,
as farmers and fisherfolk read the mornings, the evenings, the seasons.
We have come to an early thaw,
though there is still more winter before us,
and our apprehension is
that the winter may be hard.
Yet we are joyous, and our hope is in you.
Lord, teach us the lessons of these times,
that we may bring forward the things we have learned,
the things we have gained, the things we have been given,
that we shall need for what lies ahead.
Why is it, Lord, that the thaw is so much colder
than what we call “freezing cold”?
Why is the hope of a beyond to the winter
so damp, and half-lit, and uncertain?
Remind us that hope is real,
and that hope and faith pull us into the future.
Warm us against the chill of change
with the constancy of your love.
Our churches and congregations are emerging,
bringing with them the lessons they have learned.
We must learn new lessons now,
not least How To Do This –
and how to do it safely.
Ropes across pews,
A4 notices with instructions
where and were not to sit,
masks, sanitizers, one-way systems –
these are the signs of love in loving churches,
along with the cheery, encouraging faces
of teams trained to welcome and care
as well as to regulate, with meticulous love.
We pray, in love,
for the world you love,
which Jesus loved unto death,
even death on a cross.
We pray for a world so often love-lacking,
In which frustration leads easily to foolish defiance,
pride to the repudiation of protective masks –
protective of the other, whose needs are forgotten –
in which contempt for expert knowledge,
arrogance, and self-assertion fed by fear
lead the easily led,
like sheep gone astray.
We seek to pray lovingly
Through our own frustration
for those who see the thaw
as a return to what was, previously.
Things as they were
were not as you willed them to be.
Things as they were before –
you have given us to see more clearly,
and many to see for the first time –
could not, we know, be sustained.
The other side of this pandemic winter,
give our world to understand,
they are no more sustainable.
We take so much forward with us
as your people always do, when you liberate them:
Teach us that newness of thought,
burnished vision, a sense that losing things we loved can be,
sad but not tragedy, not deprivation but disencumbering,
a lightening of burden for the road ahead.
Remind us, in this week
that the lectionary invites us, if we use it,
to reflect on the Exodus,
that greater than the treasure the Israelites grabbed
as they left Egypt
(none of which served them in the desert,
save providing the gold for the Golden Calf!)
was and is the knowledge gained of you, Lord God:
- God who sets us free,
- God who brings us through all things,
- God of the Exodus,
and, as you have revealed,
- God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
Now we await our liberation.
Now we read the signs, and feel the thaw;
Lord, let prudence be the sign of our hope,
Caution, our confidence
As we embrace what now begins.
We know that, for all the raw, chill, exciting thaw
we are not done with this winter yet,
and what lies ahead will not be simple.
We pray for our congregations, as their lives unlock
We pray for our communities, as they take stock of what has happened,
And prepare for what lies ahead
We pray for our society,
amid changes barely known, not understood,
wrought by the times we are passing through.
We pray for Argyll.
We pray for those whose needs we know…
And those whose needs we cannot know…
Hear us in the Holy Silence, grounded in the peace the world cannot give…
And as Jesus taught us, so we pray: Our Father…
Lord, let the chill of the times brace us!
Let the rawness of this thawing fill us with hope!
Energize us to plunge into cold reality,
warmed by the warmth of your love to share! AMEN