The Great Pastoral Challenge of 2021
I was talking with a church member the other day about her mother, who is 101 years old and in a local care home. She is permitted only one visitor for only thirty minutes just once a fortnight. That visitor has to have a test for covid before being admitted, has to wear full PPE, and has to be supervised by a member of staff throughout their visit – rather as if they were visiting a prison instead of a care home. Of course, all concerned have also been vaccinated. Supervision of the visit is required to ensure that facemasks remain in place and no hugs are exchanged.
This woman is 101 years old, she has been more than ready to go and be with the Lord for a number of years, and yet she is permitted only minimal contact with family and no physical affection, in order to ‘protect’ her. This seems the very definition of madness. What possible good does it achieve?
It is not only right-wing Brexiteers and Liberal Democrats who might see in this the fulfilment of a technocratic vision in which the masses are kept in submission through the provision of bread and circuses (aka the furlough scheme and Netflix) while ‘experts’ decide exactly what we can and cannot do with our lives. Pastors might see this as a direct challenge to the ministry of the word to which they have been called. They might see it as not only technocratic but demonic.
This Easter week we might reflect on all the ways in which Jesus refused to err on the side of caution. This involved submitting to a corrupt political and judicial process – which reminds his followers that submission to the State, even when the State is wrong, can be our best way of honouring God. That submission was actually God’s way of subverting and overcoming all the powers. At the cross the serpent was crushed.
We might also reflect on how Jesus engaged in activities that under current coronavirus legislation would be illegal, because of the degree of physical proximity they involved – which reminds his followers about the essentially embodied nature of our faith, which we must not deny.
Matthew 26:6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
Matthew 26:20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.
Matthew 26:26-27 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you.
John 20:21-22 Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
Anointing, huddling together at dinner, sharing bread and wine, breathing on others – or embracing a 101 year old relative – all things we have been prevented from doing this past year. ‘The great Christian leadership challenge of 2021’ is to have the courage to begin doing these things again.