How long O Lord, how long?

Waiting for God’s kingdom

How long will it be before we can sing again?
How long before we can share the peace?
How long before we can share communion in both kinds?

These are questions I have seen this week on social media. People are wanting things to get back to normal. They are asking for the wrong thing.

People sitting on seats in a railway waiting room. The departure board shows Chinese lettering.
A railway waiting room, shared on a Creative Commons licence.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Psalm 13:1-2 ESVUK

We are in a pandemic. In the UK the different countries that make up the union are tackling the virus in their own way. What I am saying concerns England.

By lockdown I am talking about the way England was locked down. We never had a full lockdown like Spain or northern Italy, where you had to stay indoors except for buying food or medicines. Even then police would turn you back in Spain if you were not going to the nearest shop.

England’s lockdown was less severe, we were allowed out for exercise and we were not restricted to the nearest food shop or pharmacy.

That is when the “Why are the churches closed when supermarkets are open” complaints started on social media, including by a diocesan Bishop in the Church of England, not mine.

The answer was simple. Supermarkets in a pandemic are dangerous places, but it is a question of risk. More people will die of starvation than of the coronavirus if supermarkets close. The same applies to pharmacies. Shops were open despite being unsafe places. Treating churches the same as food shops, as the bishop was stupidly suggesting, would make the churches unsafe places too.

Things have been relaxing, shops other than food outlets and pharmacies are open, as well as pubs cafes and restaurants. That does not make them safe places, if the economy collapses, so does the health service. Churches are open too, with restrictions on social distancing and wearing of masks.

But should churches open at all? I’d say no. The impact of churches closing will not effect the economy in a way that will effect the efficiency of the health service. The use of church buildings is not vital at a time like this.

There are people who should be shielding, the elderly and those with certain medical conditions were advised to self-isolate. More vulnerable people were told by the NHS were told to shield, not go out at all if possible. This same group of people, ones who should not be mixing with others, but teaching and culture from the past means these same people are the ones who are more likely to have been told that it is sinful to miss church, people who should be shielding are attending church, the Covid-19 infection rate is rising. Churches have a duty of care for their people and for that reason I wish all churches which have opened their doors to protect vulnerable people who would turn out to a service given free choice.

Longing for the return of the old ways is longing for the wrong thing. The time of the old world that they long for is numbered. The bible says that it will be rolled up like a scroll, they used scrolls back in those days, a modern analogy will be closed like a book that has been read, we should be waiting for the next volume, not longing to re-read the old one.

Jesus will return, when we do not know, but it will happen. God’s kingdom will become a reality on Earth, the old will be swept away and the new brought in. This is what we as Christians should be longing for, not for a return for the old. Pandemic or not, our task while we wait for God’s kingdom to appear is to live by the values of God’s kingdom.

God’s kingdom values are;

  • Build: Build people up, especially those who have nothing.
  • Send: Empower people in their lives
  • Save: Recommend our relationship with God to other people.

Restrictions because of the pandemic do not stop us from doing this.

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