THIS is a unique moment in our lives, when the ravaging of the Covid virus (67,000 new infections a day in England in early January, and towards a thousand daily deaths) coincides with the season of Epiphany.
The three great revelations — the Magi bringing their gifts, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, and the wedding at Cana — each point the way in which faith can grow. In the history of the Church, there have been many dark times, enlightened by God visiting us in his Son, and we can call on its tradition today.
The experience of the First World War can, perhaps, also help us. In the beginning, in the autumn of 1914, the military set out across the English Channel in great hope. “It’ll all be over by Christmas,” they said. It was not.
The bright uniforms of Mons gave way to the dull khaki of the trenches; and flowers in meadows and beautiful trees were replaced by a shattered landscape. Bright hope for tomorrow was superseded by the dark reality of injury and death. The gradual reassessment of the situation was a long and painful process. To dig deep was not just a case of new trenches in Flanders soil.
IN A time of pandemic now, the initial three-week lockdown in March last year was but a tiny reflection of what lay in store for the world, and, like those caught up in the First World War, we, too, are having to learn as we go along. The exhaustion and strain is not so very different to those wartime efforts.
What helped at such a time? Unbreakable comradeship, shared sorrow, humour, unquenchable hope, and a strong resilience previously nurtured in the harsh factories and cotton mills of Victorian England. And, most of all, it was found that small things mattered: a gesture, a kindness, a remembrance — each made all the difference.
A Padre, the Revd David Railton MC, who took a large Union flag to the Western Front, would drape it on a makeshift altar. A bright spot of colour in the dour setting, it provided focus and comfort at his services. (Subsequently, it was taken to Westminster Abbey to hang alongside the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, and remained in place for many years*).
Where is our rallying point? We cannot meet or embrace. Where can we look for comfort?
The three gifts of the Epiphany of Jesus may help us: we give and receive gifts to encourage and show love; the Holy Spirit comes to us, silent, dynamic, and real; and the abundance and joy of Jesus’s celebration and life-enhancing miracle in Cana brings us fresh hope.
THOSE who lived through the First World War were marked for life, and so, too, we are being marked for life in this pandemic.
After the war, the surviving young people had vision enough to create the United Nations. Our hope lies in the recovery and energy of our young people, whom I believe will equally set out with renewed vision, and, in their newly discovered priorities, there will be an outburst of creativity.
The Revd Jean Fletcher is a Methodist minister and a retired mental-health chaplain. She is the editor of Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care in Mental Health Settings (JKP 2019), which is reviewed in the 8 January issue of the Church Times.
*The Flag: The story of Rev David Railton MC and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, by Andrew Richards, is published by Casemate.