Talking Point – August 2020

A changed and needy world

WHEN I was training, we had a tutor who would say: ‘I don’t listen to what people say, I look at what they do’. He also considered the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) to be Jesus’ most important parable. There the criteria for being rewarded at the Last Judgement are all about what you do for other people: whether you feed, clothe, and welcome them, whether you visit them when they are sick or in prison. It’s about practical generosity, welcome, and care for those in difficulties.

I write this at the end of June, to be published in August. So much has happened in the last few months, I can have no idea what exactly will be happening by August. Perhaps the pandemic will have receded in this country, if we are lucky. The signs are already that it will be raging in others. Perhaps relaxation of restrictions will have already started to trigger a new wave here.

Whatever the situation, the effects of the pandemic will only just be beginning to work their way through: loss on all levels, whether directly because of the illness, or indirectly, with the economic impact, the job losses, the uncertainties and fears for the present and the future, the mental strain. This pandemic has shaken the foundations of our society, and to stabilise and rebuild is going to take a long, long time.

How should Christians respond?

Christians, along with everyone else, have suffered loss, both personally, but also as Christian communities. In different ways, we have responded, reconstituting our worshipping communities: first virtually, then – slowly, carefully – returning to our churches, but in new and different ways. Many Christian communities have surprised themselves by just how quickly they can change and respond. Often with a heavy toll of exhaustion, but also inspired and sustained in ways we couldn’t have imagined: the Spirit is at work.

But we need to pray now for more strength, and stamina, and imagination, and determination, because how we worship, how we talk about God, even how we pray – that is only one part of our faith. It is the part that feeds us so that we have the strength for that other part: the part that is about what we do, how we respond clear-sightedly to the world around, knowing and loving it for what it is: God’s precious and beloved creation.

And what I can be certain of, now, writing in June, is that, over time, there will be increased need in the world around us. The high cost to our country and the wider world is already clear, although we can’t yet grasp its extent. So the question is: in the months and years to come, how can we, as Christians in Caversham, respond? How can we work together to feed, and clothe, and welcome those in whatever kind of need, to visit the sick and reach out to those imprisoned in whatever way?

We may feel we have no strength left for that. But I suspect that it is by embracing the challenge that we will discover new strength. God’s grace has a strange way of refreshing us when we move away from our inward-focused anxieties, and open our eyes and hearts to embrace Jesus’ mission in the world. Let’s drink deep of the worship and the prayer we have worked so hard to sustain, and put the energy and nourishment we gain from that to its proper, full use: serving our community, our country, and our world, working for God’s kingdom.

Judith Ryder

Curate at St Peter’s Church, Caversham