CELEBRATIONS MISSED . . . .
I wonder how many of you have managed to have ʻLockdown Celebrationsʼ
Since March there have been many ʻmissedʼ celebrations of different events. There have also been very innovative ideas to compensate for cancelled parties. Zoom parties have enabled gatherings of family and friends to celebrate those special occasions. Hundreds of plans to gather family and friends together may have been thwarted – but people have not been beaten! We can all be thankful for the technological age in which we live.
My ponderings meandered into thoughts about the ʻjourney of lifeʼ. Our individual journeys have hopefully held – or will hold – many stages of growth and maturity, many moments of achievement, and many causes for celebrations. Christians believe that God is with us through all those times (just as he is with us in the dark times). I write today of three significant times of gathering and celebration, and of God being in those moments . . . .
Like many of you, we have rejoiced with friends who have welcomed the recent arrival of a newborn – in our friendsʼ case, the baby is a girl. The ʻpackagingʼ surrounding her arrival was delight beyond measure, deep thankfulness for her safe arrival, and the promise of future joy. Such emotions will have been mirrored in families nationwide. The parents of ʻLockdown Babiesʼ will all have stories to tell in the years to come.
One of my favourite hymns for baptism is the ʻSong of a Young Prophet”, scriptural text taken from the Book of Jeremiah. Here are just some of the words:
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you through and through
I chose you to be mine before you left your motherʼs side, I called to you, my child, to be my sign.
I know that you are very young, but I will make you strong
I will fill you with my word, and you will travel through the land Fulfilling my command, which you have learned.
And everywhere you are to go, my hand will follow you,
you will not be alone, in all the dangers that you fear, youʼll find me very near, your words my own . . .
(If you donʼt know it, perhaps play it via YouTube)
I am looking forward to conducting weddings again. Difficult decisions have had to be made by each couple as they face the changing rules and regulations (that have come seemingly at the drop of a hat!). Weddings symbolise hope for the future, the witnessing of a covenant between two people pledging themselves each to the other for the rest of their lives. Even without all the ʻextrasʼ that weddings usually now entail, even with much smaller numbers present, there will be delight that the couple have decided that exchanging vows and taking on the ʻmantle of marriageʼ are actually the most important thing for them. By far and away, the favourite Bible reading for weddings is from 1 Corinthians 13. (Love is patient, love is kind . . .) – it describes ʻLoveʼ beautifully and can be used as advice for any couple, but I choose to quote from the Song of Solomon 8 v6: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for
love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave”. The Good News version paraphrases it as: “Close your heart to every love but mine; hold no-one in your
arms but me”. Love, in marriage, is intended by God to be only for one to the other.
Throughout lockdown, I have continued to conduct funerals and burial services. Funerals these days (prior to Covid) are usually described as a ʻCelebration of Lifeʼ – both the service and the reception which follows are very much a ʻcelebration of the personʼ and of all they have meant to those who love them. Much has been said about how sad it is that so few people can attend funerals now – which is certainly true – but I have been moved by being with ʻjustʼ the families and closest friends in what have been small but actually quite intimate services. So much has become ʻhugeʼ in this society in which we live, the ʻsmall and simpleʼ has for me been unexpectedly appealing. Without question it is sad for those who cannot attend the service for a loved one, just as it is for those who have had to make the hard decision not to attend, but I hope that people can find comfort by paying their respects in different ways, perhaps a quiet moment at the time of the funeral, with personal thoughts and memories and maybe a prayer.
As we think of those who have, or will in due course, depart this mortal life, I offer this verse:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8 38-39)
What more could anyone wish for when bidding farewell to those whom they love . . . but to know that they will never be separated from the love of God.
More than five months on, the tiny microbe that is Covid-19, still wreaks havoc – it is continuing to have a terrible effect on peopleʼs lives, not just in the celebrations I have talked about – but in countless other ways with immeasurable cost. Life for us all is changed, of that there is no doubt. Life may never ʻlookʼ like it once did . . . Covid may leave an indelible mark on the way we lead our lives from hereon. But, thankfully humanity is mostly resilient. We are adaptable, and the vast majority of people will hopefully be able to navigate the changing journey ahead. And for those who choose to recognise it, God will be there for the full length of our ʻjourney of lifeʼ .
A paraphrase of Thessalonians 5 v16 in The Voice translation says: “Celebrate always”. The literal translation is “Rejoice always”. It means “Be joyful always!”
Whatever celebrations you may have coming your way, be they in ʻreal life, but socially distancedʼ or via Zoom or some other innovative way, may they be truly joyful – and may you know the presence of God alongside you.
With my love to you and your families