It is not often a Bishop who loves the church has to stop congregations meeting together. If you showed up at a church near you on Sunday and the doors were closed then I am deeply sorry. Under normal circumstances all people are always welcome but we are experiencing far from normal circumstances.
While the doors to our church buildings are closed, the privileges of the internet are not. Many churches have gone online, live-streaming or prerecording opportunities for their churches to be together while apart. Indeed, during the current crisis, that is a good description of what churches are aiming for, “Being together while apart.”
If you would value joining with a church to pray and to hear some words of encouragement then try phoning or Googling your denomination to see what’s available. If, for example, you Google search the Armidale Anglican Diocese you will find a tab, “COVID-19 Resources”, on the home page. If you click this you will find: sermons to listen to; Sunday services live-streamed from local churches or St Andrews Cathedral in Sydney; a Morning Prayer service with the Dean of the Armidale Cathedral; and literature to read and consider. I have been trying the online experience of church with my wife and while it is never as good as being there in person with people, we have found it very encouraging, offering us hope in an insecure time.
After my online Sunday Church experience, I spent some time in the garden which proved strangely good for my soul. I watched my wife delve into pots with trowel in hand, nurturing the life within them. I saw her prune back with a view to improving the living. As I pushed the lawn mower over our out of control lawn I was reminded just how quickly living can get out of control and of the cuts needed to restore it to order. But it was the autumn leaves that reminded me of an end to all things and the prospect of seasons yet to come.
My gardening experience was like an epiphany, a parable, a metaphoric moment, perhaps a sermon by God’s creation to a world that fails to listen.
My grandchildren are really too young to understand a virus that locks us down. With understanding, older children, teens and even adults are not immune to the fears and insecurities that confront us globally. In those human pots the trowel wielding hand of the Gardner’s nurture could not be more important.
Every youth is learning, while every adult knows that the unpruned life is a suffocatingly cluttered one that only finds breath by pruning - to lose something in order to gain more. The key is not to grow wild but, like the vineyard vine, to surrender to the Pruner to produce the best wine.
When wild and out of control, the only answer is a cut that restores order. We could call this a grievous discipline while autumn warns the undisciplined of the mortal wound of a winter yet to come.
The Bible speaks of God as a nurturer and a pruner, who cuts when necessary in order to bring us life and His warnings of death fall like autumn leaves. When it comes to COVID-19, autumn leaves are falling and a deadly winter seems a certainty. If nurture does not work, pruning is ineffective and a cut is unfelt, then the prospect of death should shake us to the core.
It’s time to let God, the Gardener, cut, prune and nurture us for the spring beyond the fall. This is where Jesus Christ is of such value. In the winter of his death on a cross came the spring of hope as death was swallowed up in the victory of His resurrection. In this is our comfort and the place to rest.