|For Reflection: This week’s reflection is by our Curate, Gill Alexander
Matthew 22: 34-end
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
The last sermon I preached in these parishes was at the start of Lent nearly eight months ago. The fact that within less than a month I would be having to step up as a key worker to help lead the national and regional response to a global pandemic hadn’t been part of plan on thinking on that day. I didn’t see it coming and it has been hard to make sense of it all.
It is hard to comprehend just how much our lives have changed over the past eight months. Our liberty has been restricted, our economy has suffered a seismic shock, significant economic, racial and regional inequalities have been revealed, the death toll is almost unbearable and people are becoming weary and angry.
We are all struggling to understand what is happening to us and what we should do about it.
We have been offered a wide range of metaphors to help us make sense of it all – the virus has been described variously as a sombrero that we need to flatten, a double-humped camel, a tunnel - and our efforts to deal with the virus have been likened to an intergalactic war effort – the virus is our alien enemy.
Some have suggested that the virus is God’s way of bringing us to our senses, others that it’s a Chinese conspiracy to take over the world.
Of course, the virus is none of these things – it is a virus. In and of itself it holds no moral or political brief. However, whatever it is, it has brought our world to a halt like nothing else could. It has created a rupture between our past and our future.
We all long for a return to normality – to re-connect our past with a future we cannot predict. It feels like we are in an in between space in which it is hard to make plans.
In all of this perhaps one of the most powerful metaphors I have come across is suggested by Arundhati Roy, the author of The God of Small Things. She invites us to see the pandemic not as a war – or a conspiracy – but as a portal. She says:
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
In our Gospel reading today we enter the world of first century Palestine with Jesus having dispatched both the Herodians and the Sadducees who sought to entrap him. Today we hear the Pharisees take their turn at testing Jesus with “Which commandment in law is the greatest?”.
In response Jesus gives one faithful answer that unites two commandments in Deuteronomy and Leviticus that to us have become inseparable – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind,’ and without taking breath he goes on to add ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
It is remarkably straightforward, virtually a slogan. It is the Great Commandment and Jesus goes on to ask a few questions of his own that reveal something of his identity as the Messiah and what he has come to do. He is God with us.
When Jesus entered into these conversations with the Herodians, Sadducees and Pharisees he was only days away from his execution – and on the threshold of his own death Jesus said to his friends that this is how people would know they were his followers; by the way they loved each other.
The love he speaks of is more than a nice comfortable feeling. It is defined by what you do in relationship with each other. How we decide to act.
This was Jesus’ answer to the how do we travel lightly question.
He was inviting them and us to travel through a portal with him ready to imagine another way of being human together.
And this is what the early Christians that Paul addressed in his letters did – they modelled new ways of human beings belonging together.
We sometimes forget just how radical and astonishing those early Christian communities were. They brought together people who were very different – Paul was a former enemy of Christians – Jews and Gentiles were not supposed to mix, they were supposed to keep apart. But they modelled a different way of being together. They showed kindness and compassion. Different as they were, they loved one another. Enemies had become friends. And, this love and this service meant that the message of a small Jewish sect went viral and changed the world.
If we have learned anything through this pandemic it is that we are all interdependent – we find our protection and our shelter in each other.
The question we face is how do we travel lightly through the portal this pandemic has created between our past and our future. How do we travel lightly to shape a church that models ways of being human together based on love of God and love of neighbour?
Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York in his enthronement sermon last week invited churches to be places and a people where people feel safe, loved and accepted - ‘to be where people will find hope for the world and a vision for a new humanity’
This won’t be achieved through a top down approach cluttered with strategies, governance and grand initiatives. We are not called to do mighty acts – but to do something small acts born out of kindness.
The seemingly overwhelming problems of the world that the pandemic has revealed begin in the human heart – and hearts can be changed when we honour God by loving each other and in so doing know that we are loved.
The recent survey that has been undertaken across our parishes has indicated a real interest in exploring new ways of travelling together as a prayerful, worshiping and loving community. As we journey through the portal into a post COVID future we have the opportunity to live up to the Great Commandment and prayerfully model ways of being human together as people who created out of love and intended to be loving people.
Because loving kindness is all God wants. Love is all we need to give God and our neighbour.
Questions for personal reflection
- How might we better respond to those in need in our community with loving kindness?
- What barriers get in the way of loving our neighbour?
- What would you want to take into the post Covid19 future – and what would you leave behind?