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Reflections: Reverend John Summers

Trinity Chaplain, Reverend John Summers, writes the first in a series of reflections by College members during the COVID-19 outbreak

Every year that I was a curate in the Dorset countryside I would lead a Good Friday meditation in a village church. This was an hour of readings, short reflections and silence contemplating Jesus’ crucifixion and death as commemorated on that day. The atmosphere was always measured and solemn as the congregation focused on that violent and painful story.

But I was always concerned about an elephant in the room, which was that everyone there knew how the Easter story ends. Nobody reads a detective novel by starting with the last chapter. To do so would spoil the story. You cannot inhabit the mystery if you know how it is going to end. So whilst the congregation were there to contemplate the solemnity and pain of the crucifixion on Good Friday, they knew perfectly well that on Easter Sunday Christ would rise from the tomb and everything would be resolved in a festal shower of chocolate eggs, bunnies and roast lamb. It sometimes felt like a struggle, in that context, to take Good Friday seriously: at their subconscious level, people understandably held fast to the triumphant resolution of the story.

Reverend John Summers

The situation thrown up by the Covid-19 virus arguably creates the opposite problem. Nobody has been left untouched by the disruption and upheaval of the last few weeks and for many people the trauma has been deeply felt. The pace of change, the closing down of familiar institutions and patterns of life and the prohibition of routine practices has been staggering. An uncertain and possibly very long period of sustained and serious interruption to our lives now lies ahead.

The consequence of all this is that we are all vividly inhabiting the despair and uncertainty of the present. Few dare to raise their eyes to the horizon, or fear that if they were to do so there would just be more bad news.

Experts assure us that in time this virus will be brought under some kind of control. In due course life will return to something like normality. It will take months or even years, and the toll will be heavy and costly, but it will happen. Given this fact, the challenge for us is to live not just in the turmoil of the present, but also in the hope of the future. To live, adopting a Christian simile, not only in the solemnity of Good Friday but also in the hope of Easter Sunday.

This is a task which can (and should) begin now. It doesn’t involve our enduring pain in the present so that at some point in the future we can start to be more optimistic. Rather the challenge is to acknowledge as true, even among the very real hurt of these times, that there are currently signs of hope which will eventually prevail. Already, people are moved by the mobilisation of local communities to assist their vulnerable members, sometimes in places where a public sense of community has felt rather lacking recently. Elsewhere, people working in all branches of the National Health Service and medical research have rightly been hailed for their exceptional devotion and diligence. Furthermore, all around us the natural world is reawakening: soil, which so recently was sodden and cold, and trees, which only weeks ago looked empty and dead, erupt into riots of colour and new life.

When we feel overwhelmed by the crisis, and there is no denial of its depth and seriousness, we can  nevertheless hold fast to the signposts towards the resolution which is coming, and which are present with us now.

As the saying goes, this too will pass.

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