We’ve just been for a good walk. We met a few other walkers and cyclists en route, but we kept our social distance when needed (about 3 times) and exchanged cheery 3 metre distant greetings with everybody (nearly) Mostly there was warmth and welcome in our interactions, which left me wondering why that isn’t the case in normal times. So whether you’ve been alone today, or interacting virtually with others, take a moment to reflect as you light your candle, fill your glass (if that’s you!) and settle down comfortably for the next few minutes.
You’ve got new clothes now. You’re learning to look how God meant you to be. In your new clothes there are no differences of race, religion, culture or class. Your relationship to Jesus is all that matters. You each have a family likeness to him! You have a special place in God’s heart. So show off those new clothes. Be sensitive and kind, quiet, gentle and patient. Put up with each other’s little quirks and overlook your grievances. God has forgiven you, so you must forgive one another. What you need most of all is love. It’s the secret of getting on well together. Adopt Jesus’ peaceful attitude of mind. That’s what first attracted you and formed you into a community. Treasure the teachings of Jesus. Put your minds to work and help one another understand their meaning. Express your thanks to God on music, singing and dancing. Even your simplest words and actions should display loyalty to God and mark your appreciation of what he has done for you. (Colossians 3:11-17)
I was almost out of my teens before I first travelled abroad. Then two spells living in Austria and a month as one of this country’s earliest Inter-Railers (with my round-the-world cycling friend Robert) left me rather addicted to the values and joys of travel. In Austria I quickly found it was considered impolite to get on to a bus or train without exchanging greetings with fellow-passengers. Having developed a habit of this, I’ve occasionally raised a few eyebrows ever since by doing the same in the UK! At first it felt slightly stilted and uncomfortable, but I soon realised it was a vital part of community cohesion. Everyone respected it as an acknowledgement we were occupying the same space with a similar purpose in being there.
So there was an unexpected resonance this afternoon with those taking their allowed daily exercise. Whereas in the past I’d have barely made than eye contact, the exchange of a greeting and smile with people we’d never seen before, acknowledged that we were all engaged on the same journey, looking to fulfil a similar purpose in these unsettling times, and wanting to offer cheer and encouragement as we all cope with this unfamiliar world we find ourselves in. Most people were happy to reciprocate, so try it yourself and be surprised at how readily smiles and waves are reciprocated!
The church St Paul wrote to at Colossae was probably several congregations, dotted around what we now describe as western Turkey. The words above would have been read aloud at their assemblies, and although Paul hadn’t visited Colossae in person, it’s thought he was probably briefed by his friend Epaphras, the likely founder of these new churches. It seems that what had started off well a few years earlier was becoming derailed and weakened by internal disputes. Racial exclusivism, intellectual superiority and a holier-than-thou mindset all played their part in this, as smaller groups peeled off and started to push their own agendas. Earlier in this letter Paul has pointed out how their faith journey is almost regressing as they go back to attitudes which should have been discarded like worn-out clothes. ” Instead,” he says, “think of your faith as a set of new clothes which you want to show off to others!” – he then highlights values and standards which will commend their faith to all around them. These aren’t just a set of rules like those we all now have to abide by for a while, or a moral tick-box exercise. Instead they’re rooted in the love of God which we see in Jesus himself, transformed behaviour flowing from transformed attitudes.
Relationships are the heartbeat of any community, most of all among those who claim to follow the way of Jesus. A crisis often brings out the worst in people – news media are full of coronavirus accounts of selfishness, unkindness and disregard for others. So before you blow out your candle and finish off Lockdown Day 6, reflect on the communities you’re involved with – on-line or more directly. What can you do to build and nurture our community? Whatever your conclusion, do something tomorrow to encourage and build up faith and strengthen community ties.
Prayer for today
Loving Father, in these days of
crisis and uncertainty
give us courage to live out the peace and hope of your kingdom.
Give us confidence to resist negative, destructive behaviour,
and compassion in building community with others. Amen