The Silence of the Shepherds
Dick Farr and Carrie Sandom, Friday 17 April 2020
During this time of isolation and social distancing a number of people have asked: “What are the Bishops and Archbishops in the Church of England saying about this crisis? Where is the spiritual leadership we need at a time like this?”
The answer is that it has been sadly lacking. Instead there has been a lot of encouragement to follow the government guidelines and to be community even though we are no longer in our buildings. There have been tips on live streaming and videoing and some worship packs have been made available. We have been encouraged to pray and offer consolation as the Apostle Paul did and to sing songs as the Babylonian exiles did when they found themselves in a ‘strange’ land. The Diocesan Youth and Children’s team have told us to stand firm and to love one another.
The overall sense is that, like everyone else, we are rather flummoxed by the situation we find ourselves in but need to grit our teeth and get through it the best we can.
But, surely, there is more to be said than just "Stay at home and wash your hands"?
If you’ve been following the wider Anglican scene in recent months, the absence of any gospel hope from the senior leadership of the Church of England will come as no surprise. For some years we have seen that there are two opposing ‘faiths’ in worldwide Anglicanism.
On the one hand, there is the faith that listens to the Lord and is rooted in the word of God and, on the other, there is the faith that listens to the world and is rooted in the culture.
So when a major crisis hits our nation, is it any surprise that our denominational leaders have little more to say than what the government has already said?
One Sovereign Lord
So where should we look when our denominational leaders fail us? Peter tells us that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness (2 Peter 1:3). Our denominational leaders and councils are subject to Scripture. So if they had been paying attention to the word of God what might they have discovered and been encouraged to teach?
They would have discovered the Sovereign, Creator Lord - the One who made everything and the One to whom everything belongs, the One whom humanity rejected in the Garden of Eden, and has continued to do so to this very day. In response to the rejection of His rule, the Sovereign God judged humanity and the whole of the created order. Life in this world and relationships among its people would no longer be straightforward. There would now be enmity, suffering and toil. War, famine, sickness and death would be daily realities. Daily realities that were designed by the Creator to cause humanity to wonder “Why?” To ask “Isn’t there more to life than this?”
As the creation itself prompts the questions “How?” and “Why?” so the state of the world under God’s present judgement does the same. We can listen to the Bible for the Lord’s explanation of why things are as they are, and also how He wants us to respond.
Revelation 6 and 9 tell us that the Covid-19 plague (like the black death in the 15 century, the great plague in the 17 century and the Spanish Flu epidemic last century) is just another demonstration of God’s present judgement on a rebellious world. It is a reminder to us that for all our technological and medical advances, we are not in control. We may have made plans far into the future but, actually, none of us know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
So, who is in control?
It is also a reminder of our mortality. This virus is no respecter of persons, nor of ages. It has brought death closer to us all - and who would have thought that possible even a month ago? We might then wonder, am I ready for my own death?
Covid-19 gives us the opportunity to face both of these questions before it is too late: who is in control of this world? And, am I ready for death? Sooner or later we will need to have answers to these questions and the Bible urges us to find the answers now.
What then is the right response to all this? Luke 13 gives us a very clear answer. Whether there are acts of terrorism in the world (v1-2) or death through natural disasters (v4), Jesus makes it clear that the right response is repentance...
“Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Luke 13:3,5 (NIV)
Repentance was the required response at the start of Jesus' ministry (Matthew 4:17) and it was the message He passed onto the Apostles (Luke 24:46-47) and so to the Church.
Revelation 9:20-21 tells us that repentance is the right response to the situation we find ourselves in but this message is rejected as people continue in their old ways - as it was in John’s vision. People continue to steal from God, both the worship and the glory that is due to Him alone. They continue to worship idols that cannot see, hear or walk and refuse to surrender to the Lord’s right to rule.
ONE JUDGE OF ALL...
And all of these present judgements point us forward to the Judgement to come. When Jesus returns to the earth it will not be as a vulnerable baby, but as the victorious Lord and Judge of all. On that great and terrible Day He will call everyone to account, and there will be a division between those who have repented and believed in Him and those who have not. The former will enjoy eternity with Him, the latter only everlasting torment.
To repent is simply to turn round; to no longer think and act one way, but to change to another way; to no longer be headed in my own direction, which can only end in disaster, but instead to turn through 180 degrees and head in Jesus’ direction - acknowledging Him as Lord and living for Him.
...WHO DIED FOR ALL
Easter reminds us of the cost to Jesus of this truly wonderful future. He died on a Roman cross, suffering all the agony of taking God’s wrath on Himself in our place...
- Here is justice, the innocent has received the punishment for the guilty.
- Here is mercy, the guilty receive what they do not deserve.
- Here is love, as the innocent Son of God willingly gives His life for the love of the world, which rejected Him.
- We will be good citizens and keep to the government guidelines.
- We will be good neighbours and help out in our community.
- We will be good brothers and sisters in Christ, supporting the church family, praying for those who are sick and working in key industries.
But above all we shall be Gospel people. Praying that our deaf and blind world may have ears to hear and eyes to see, that many may repent and find eternal life in the risen and reigning Lord Jesus this Easter.
Dick Farr and Carrie Sandom