LETTER FROM OUR MINISTER Robert Barthram
Just before writing this letter, I was reading an email in which the sender mentioned not having seen friends in over a year. This is something we have all experienced, not seeing those we would normally see. There are all sorts of modern communications but great as they have been, they are not quite the same.
Before the pandemic, there were lonely people but the enforced isolation of these times has caused more people to feel alone and to feel just a bit fed up. Others have experienced deep loneliness and, for some, real issues of mental health. God has made us as social creatures; we are who we are by being in relationships and we are missing the normal contacts that are part and parcel of relating to family and friends. Things are never the same for everyone. I know that for some it is worse. Some people are miles from family or, due to health constraints, are housebound. Circumstances vary but there can’t be many who have not gained a personal experience of loneliness to some degree over these past months.
When I read the Gospels at this time of year, the loneliness is something I have always sensed when we read, ‘They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid’ (Mk. 10:32). Jesus has already spoken of the suffering, rejection and death that await him at Jerusalem. Mark, drawing on the reminiscences of Peter, describes that journey, with Jesus walking ahead alone.
Towards the end of March we have Palm Sunday, a scene of rejoicing crowds, of being surrounded by friends and followers but how quickly things changed. A few days later Jesus was alone before his accusers, denied by his closest disciple, with only the company of mocking soldiers and then suffered the desolation of crucifixion.
Each year as Christians we seek to remember and reflect on those events; we read the bible passages, preach on the meaning and sing powerful hymns. Sometimes there are passion plays and I know some of you have even been to Oberammergau. Each year we may sense something of what our Saviour experienced but maybe this year we may sense the loneliness just a little more. Sense it and know that it was for us that he trod the lonely path to Golgotha.
I have not, though, mentioned the greatest loneliness, on the cross. Jesus cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ He hung there for us and in our place. He bore the consequences of our sin, which meant separation from his Father. As one writer explains, ‘His complete self-identification with sinners involved not merely a felt but a real abandonment by his Father.’ It does mean however that, ‘when this depth has been reached, the victory had been won.’
Maybe recent experience will mean that this Lent and Holy Week we sense just that a little bit more of what was done for us. As a hymn says:
“What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.”
Yours in Christ,
P.S. Whilst typing this letter another email arrived which reported that, ‘according to a recent survey, more than a quarter of people could not recall the last time anyone outside their family had asked how they were.’ If we have a 'phone there is something we can all do to help put that right.