Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The Methodist Church has published a service to mark our return to public worship called "Beyond Exile". A lot of people have drawn on the Old Testament accounts of the experience of Israel in exile in trying to make sense of what has been happening over the past few months as we have been unable to use our buildings. There is a danger in drawing too many parallels between the inconvenience of been unable to use buildings and the formative experience in the history of Israel of its people being forced to leave their homeland by a conquering army as a means of exerting power and suppressing rebellion.
However, people of all faiths and none have experienced a significant sense of dislocation. We have been unable to express grief and to mourn loss in ways that we are accustomed to. It has not been possible to celebrate significant life events. All of that has led to a sense of needing to discover how to live in a strange land.
The plaintive cry of the people of Israel when they were in exile in Babylon was, "How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" They found themselves in a situation where everything that was familiar had been taken away from them and those symbols and traditions which sustained their faith and gave their community a sense of identity were no longer there. The strange land was not merely physical it was a spiritual and emotional experience as well.
Their most profound discovery was that they were not alienated from God. Although many saw the exile as a sign of God's judgement, they were surprised to discover that even as they were weeping by the rivers of Babylon they could discern the reality of God and experience God's mercy.
As we begin to emerge from the lockdown, conscious that it may be necessary to repeat it again at least in some parts of the country, we are moving into a time where many of the familiar landmarks of our faith and our community life have changed. Shopping and going out for a day trip are simply not the same. Neither is coming into a church building for worship. The absence of singing and the need to maintain social distancing all make it seem very alien. For those who are still unable to leave their homes the need to continue holding virtual services and publishing printing services will still be with us.
The haunting question remains, "How shall we sing the Lord song in a strange land?" Yes, we have discovered that it is still possible to worship and that God is with us through the lockdown but how we continue to engage in worship and to sharing God's mission In the new normal is something that we are only beginning to find the space and the resource is to reflect on..
Here are some of the questions that you might like to talk about with others in your church as we press the reset button and enter the new future that God had in store for us.
Best of all, God is with us.