In the past 12 months we have learned much about waiting. Many people are asking ‘when will this be over’? When will life get back to normal? The answer is, of course, that we don’t know. We have some hopes; hopefully the vaccine will make a difference; hopefully warmer weather will bring some respite. But these are hopes, not certainties. We worry about a shortage of vaccines, and about new strains of the virus which may not be controlled by the vaccines.
But we do hope, and we have to keep that hope alive. One day, Coronovirus will be overcome and we’ll be able to live our lives fully again.
Hope was in the heart of Simeon as he waited in the Temple for the coming of the Messiah. We don’t know how long he waited, but the implication is that it was many years. And, finally, the day dawned. For Simeon it probably began like all the other days of waiting, but, by the day’s end, everything had changed. He had seen the Messiah – his long wait was over. But Simeon’s life would never return to normal – the meeting with the baby and his parents in the Temple meant that Simeon’s life would never be the same. How could life ever be normal again after you’ve met the Messiah? One hope had been fulfilled, but now another hope must have been born. The Messiah was to save the world – how was this going to be done, especially by an infant? When would the change begin? Simeon couldn’t have lived to witness Jesus’ three years of teaching and healing, or the three days of death and resurrection. But he understood something of the price that would be paid: ‘And a sword shall pierce your own soul too’.
Our lives have been turned upside down and been given a good shaking by Coronovirus, and it could be that they too will never return to how they were. I think there will be obvious positives; we will appreciate our friends and families more, we will value gatherings – the after-church tea and biscuits,Mothers’ Union meetings, school, birthday parties, meals out with friends. Hopefully physical contact will flourish again; a hug, a handshake, a kiss – even a visible smile – one not hidden behind a mask. We will enjoy face-to-face, even in GPs’ and Dentists’ surgeries.
But many lives will have changed in more difficult ways. Many, many people have lost loved ones and were unable to access the normal landmarks of grief – many weren’t with loved ones at the end, and were unable to see them in funeral parlours. Funerals were small and short. The traditions of family support have been disrupted. And there will be traumatised doctors and nurses, chaplains and other NHS and care home staff. In Blackburn we have a whole traumatised community as those of South Asian descent have suffered enormous losses – a glimpse of the Muslim section of the cemetery at Pleasington is very sobering.
These are those whose souls have been pierced, as Simeon saw that Mary’s would be. We must remember this in the coming months. It will take courage and determination to deal with all this grief and trauma. It mustn’t be ignored, un-catered-for.
And lessons will have to be learned about the folly of running schools and the NHS with no spare capacity. Let’s pray that the suffering so many have faced will enable us to become a more caring and generous country – where money and efficiency aren’t all that matter.
Another thing revealed in the early days of Coronavirus was the lack of value and respect for elderly people. Elderly people who were known to have the virus were shipped out to care homes – the results were catastrophic. Care home staff were the last to be given access to protective clothing and equipment. The care of our elderly people was uncovered and shown to be shambolic. We’ve been forced to consider whether profit is appropriate in our system of care for the elderly.
This is worth considering at Candlemas as we consider the wonderful figures of Simeon and Anna. They both had God-given roles in the encounter in the Temple. They were respected and treasured. In the Candlemas tableau there were young and old: parents, a child, a widow and an elderly man, male and female – a gathering of humankind, none of them ‘white’ – all valued by God. We can pause to consider how our society can value everyone as God values them -most especially how elderly people can be seen as a blessing, not a burden.
The snowdrops – the Candlemas flowers – are flowering in our gardens. They stand for hope – they herald the spring. As we continue to hope for an end to a terrible 12 months, may God give us courage to make sure that we return to something better than we had before. May we cherish our relationships, our need for human contact. May we care for the bruised and traumatised – acknowledge that souls have been pierced. May we value our carers, our elderly, our Muslim brothers and sisters. May we be an inclusive society where all are treasured. May we know that we are all treasured by God – the God who came to share our lives, our joys, our sorrows.