Soap and Flannel by Jasper Gordon
I think I’m not alone in saying that Lent, the traditional period of reflection, has felt increasingly ‘weighty,’ holy ground even before any needed isolation. (I write during Holy Week. My family is in a slow process of recovering from a flu-virus with Covid like symptoms.) I’ve been reminded initially of a sense of mild anxiety from early childhood. Something like being halted by being snowed-in or the electricity being cut-off. Given the circumstances, the need to pray has seemed wholly obvious; ‘Lord, what’s going on? What are you saying to us? Have mercy on us. Amen!’.
Having more time, I did notice an amusing juxtaposition of radio news stories; for reasons of present public health, Parisians are ordered only to jog after dark and notice is given of a chance to view a huge ‘pink’ super-moon over-night in the one newscast. Jogging-by-moonlight in Paris now seemed less of an imposition upon time-honoured French liberty, and far more acceptable as romantic opportunity! That I can be inspired to so readily change my view here, does remind me of getting through those earlier experiences. Being able to make the change from a rather assumed and negative fixed mind-set to a more open-ended consideration of; ‘What now?’ can be healthy. I started to think that maybe these new conditions are to some extent presenting some sort of opportunity and I recalled all those wonderful family stories being told by candlelight and correlating rediscovered depths of co-operation.
Keeping abreast of the news is becoming increasingly addictive. Meeting via Zoom, House-group has the inevitable discussion about maintaining a healthy routine during the restrictions! Historically, following a modern version of the Book of Common Prayer, my household has come together to pray once a week and reading the opening lines of God’s Ten Commandments once again, I’m struck by the familiar; ‘You shall have no other gods besides me.’ God is Jealous! This makes me consider, whose word am I prioritising just now? News feeds, group chats, community needs…I re-realise all these voices must include God’s word in the conversation. Following on from this, later-on that week during a morning Quiet-time, I reflect on something Oswald Chambers said regarding the imparting of Holy Spirit’s gift of discernment; that inspired perception should lead more to a place of intercession than one of criticism. Prayer is relevant work.
Staying in-touch with work (I’m a Care worker) a cheering piece of on-line emergency advice from one of my Managers reads; ‘Remember – Alcohol gel only works on clean hands!’ Probably subconsciously motivated by the current shortage of hand-cleanser; during one of those family bible readings, I’m challenged by the cleansing metaphors used in the third chapter of Malachi to describe the impact of Messiah’s arrival; ‘Like soap for cleansing raw wool.’ (v.2) The metaphorical use here suggests to me that the cleansing called for needs to be at a deeper, moral level. God looks at the heart. Suffering can be a process that allows people the chance to change. The thought comes that our present circumstances also point to deeper, sociological needs and beg a more profound response from us. Malachi concludes by warning of the consequences of folk not including the Creator in the process of working out what they are meant to do for their own good; ‘He (God) will turn the hearts of fathers to the children and the hearts of children to the fathers…else I will strike the land with utter destruction.’ (Ch.4 v.6) How enforced upon us are our own family lives just now?!
‘Spasms’ that come more forcefully and closer together give a sense of change that recalls people’s repeated use of the phrase ‘unprecedented’ about these current events. This in turn reminds me of Jesus using an image from family life to further describe the testing events leading to his return; ‘These are the beginning of birth pains.’ (Mark Ch.13 v.8.) So, what do we do in our waiting?? Jesus commands us to; ‘keep watch,’ (See: Matt Ch.24 v.42) and to have our, ‘lamps full of oil.’ (See: Matt Ch.25 v.10) Which I think means being continually re-filled/over-flowing with Holy Spirit.
One main story from Jesus’ news feed (‘Gospel’ meaning good news.) is that we’re all invited to a wedding. (See: Matt. Ch.22 – and I know what you’re thinking – Jesus can’t return until the social distancing restrictions are lifted?) There is something disrespectful of the intended union in this story about the guest, initially addressed as a ‘Friend,’ (v.12) thrown-out for wearing inappropriate clothing. One pleasure of working from home we’ve recently been enjoying is the relaxation in the need for maintaining formal-wear (some more than others), which makes me wonder what this is about? Jesus might have had in mind the prophet Isaiah’s earlier joyful vision of being clothed in, ‘garments of salvation.’ (See: Isa. Ch.6 v.10) In Revelation, John sees the Saints wearing fine linen at the ‘wedding of the lamb’ which represents their ‘righteous acts.’ (See: Rev. Ch.19 v.8) I think there is that sense of security here in knowing what to do; knowledge (Salvation) leads to action (righteous acts.) This is what we present in public; our ‘posh frock,’ so to speak. It may be intense and at times emotional but it’s through our on-going ‘working things out’ repentance and willingness to change; our thanks-giving and resulting worship, that we maintain loving relationship – just like in a marriage.
Looking forward to meeting everyone in the spacious (thank God for his provision) accommodation of the Kings Hall rather than on-screen.