The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Palm Sunday Evening Prayer at Home      5th April 2020
Learning to Love, Enduring the Pandemic
Jan Rushton

Deaths of many kinds surround us.
And indeed for some, the mortal death of loved ones is a present reality ....
For those on their own, the isolation may be crushing ....
For others the reverse is overwhelming, too much togetherness 
and nerves frayed to breaking point; the inability to be alone ....
children uncomprehending and frustrated; 
Let us pray for those 
where already fraught relationships may tip over into violence .... 
Desperation exacerbated by the potential loss of income, 
and a future mightily uncertain ...   The death of our known life.
I am very conscious that I speak from a place of privilege.
My immediate family and friends are safe, 
I am able to communicate with them.
My resources are not under threat ....  With much kind thought,
more than enough food has been brought to my door!  Thank you!
We have lovely church groups set up on Zoom! 
enabling us to gather for talk and coffee - so to speak!
I have work that needs to be done - 
writing reports for ordination candidates, which I can do remotely - 
I do think having work helps too!
If I go down with coronavirus and cannot write them, 
my young women will be stuffed!   Stuffed that is, for the moment!
Which is salutary, and reminds me of the great privilege it is,
to be given this opportunity to significantly contribute to their lives! 
So what can I say to you this evening?  Our readings all about judgement!
Lament for the judgement fallen upon the nation.  Psalm 80.
Fierce words from the prophet Isaiah 
in that traditional image of the vineyard destroyed:
The Beloved, God that is, who expected justice, but saw bloodshed; expected righteousness, but heard a cry!
The Song of the Vineyard - parable, telling the story of Israel’s people:  
picture of the infinite care taken by the Lord God 
to produce the finest wine!  
Metaphor for the happy nation God intends Israel to be! 
Yet at harvest time, the grapes it turns out, are wild - and bitter.
What should God do? Asks the prophet of his audience?  
You know the expected answer!
And then Jesus parable of the wicked tenants willing to steal and murder - 
tenants who should have known better!
So is Coronavirus God’s judgement upon us for the way we live our lives?
If you follow Social Media  you may have seen this grim prospect suggested!
As you will know, personally, I do not believe 
God sends ‘punishment’ upon us. 
It is we who bring judgement and punishment upon ourselves.
Pandemics are not sent by God, although in part natural, 
to a great extent their causes are 
the natural consequence of how we choose to live.
And they face us up with new choices!
For me, we live in a world of astonishing intricacy and beauty - 
our very existence clearly pointing to a Creator, to God!
Our world exists because of a conundrum: 
life on earth must follow the laws of physics, 
AND, if there is to be development, evolution, 
there must also be random, out of kilter events able to happen.
This is the world we are given, 
and it is pointless to question these realities!
When bad things happen, when across our world
hundreds of thousands of people die, 
in the months to come maybe millions, 
in the face of such innocent suffering, 
we are confronted with some serious choices.
Choices which may make or break our lives!
Today is Palm Sunday, day when we remember 
Jesus’ physical demonstration on that donkey, 
of a world turned upside down! The last shall be first and the first last!
If you saw Jim Walters, our former curate speak this morning on U-tube:
you heard him tell us of the crowd shouting for Jesus 
as he rode into Jerusalem: Hosanna!  Liberator!
It’s a big story!  Our story!
We are creatures made with the freedom to choose.
When life throws disaster at us 
we do need to give ourselves the space to grieve, to mourn.
And then the choices face us.  
Are we willing to learn from our circumstances?
Are we willing to do things otherwise?
At the end of this pandemic I do not believe 
our lives or our government can simply go back to where they were -
as we did following the breaking of the banks in 2008.
But how will we change?  How will we think differently?  
How will our actions be transformed?
Things will emerge slowly.  We do need to take time to reflect and ponder.
Go away.  Come back.  Ponder and reflect again.
Can we make a decision to choose to check our frustration, annoyance, 
rather choosing to seek understanding,.
In this process lists are good!  Somewhere to start!
Each evening let us write down the things 
for which we have been grateful this day.
And most important, the small things!
Can we take this opportunity to sit down, be still a while. 
Think on what are actually those things, who are those people, 
most important, most precious, to us?
This pandemic will come to an end.
Meanwhile, it is a train we can choose to ride, 
Choose to use each frustration as opportunity for exercising 
our spiritual muscles to grow in love.  Amen.

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