Reflection for 17th May 2020
The lectionary for Morning Prayer over the past two or three weeks has been the story of Moses and the children of Israel. The empty church has echoed with my voice telling of the call of Moses, his struggle with Pharaoh, the plagues of Egypt, culminating in the dreadful death of each first-born male whether human or beast and the trials faced by the wanderings of ancient refugees through the desert. Much of the story tells of their dissatisfaction, whether they are complaining about the discomfort travelling through the desert or the lack of a varied diet. Not Manna again! They are constantly holding Moses and God to account. Moses spends a few days communing with God and returns to find them bowing down to the golden calf. The narrative has just reached the point at which they have arrived at the borders of the promised land. They are about to enjoy the fruits of their prolonged struggle and discomfort.
It has to be admitted that God’s role is often vengeful and seemingly unreasonable. Moses is constantly pleading with the Lord to soften his judgement. While this formative narrative for Judaism is a compelling and powerful symbol for growth and suffering, in the modern world we tend not to see God as deliberately inflicting suffering on his people.
Over the past month, I have seen a number of poems which contribute the coronavirus directly to the Lord, inflicted upon us as a kind of warning to turn again. Personally I do not feel that God works quite like this. It is not so much that suffering is carefully planned and meted out but simply that it is part of the way life is. We have to accept it, to learn to overcome it and to learn to grow from it. Jesus comes into a world where what is good often suppressed and resisted; he is not the only good man to have suffered an unjust death. But it is through his suffering and resurrection that he transforms the world.
What I do believe we can take from the story of the Exodus and indeed from all accounts of biblical suffering is that it can be a stimulus for growth. A means to a way in which we can re-examine our lives. The epistle of Peter reminders us this,
“who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.”
St Paul in his preaching to the Athenians recognises something of their humility and wisdom in the way in which they honour an unknown God; as if to say that God is beyond knowledge. Howver he takes this idea further. Although God cannot be fathomed in himself, we can recognise him in creation, but more importantly, we can recognise that his presence does not reside in empty statues of gold or bronze but within us and our humanity and within those around us.
Just at the Israelites complained of their journey and felt they were suffering the injustice of a an angry God, we may feel the same but there is nothing new in pestilence and plague. It is a facet of the world we live in. On our journey through this corona virus let us pray that we receive the grace to recognise our faults and as the spirit is poured out upon us, in the coming weeks that we may grow in strength, faith and compassion.