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A place for everyone in God’s Bubble

Thirteenth after Trinity: Sunday 6 September 2020

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus says, ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, they will stand two meters apart.’

It’s not right is it? We know it’s not right. We know all the measures we are taking at the moment are indeed right as we seek to survive this pandemic, and whilst looking at congregations in masks is dystopian, we know it will be short-lived. So we know its right to be as cautious as we can be, but we also know that this is not just a change to normality, but a change to our experience of human flourishing. First the handshake of Peace was taken away, then the wine of the communion cup, and now even the smile, hidden behind the face covering. I am very aware that as we tolerate these things, we should always think of those who have fought so bravely for our health, and who spend long hours behind hot and annoying personal protection equipment, so our burden is light in comparison, and we bless them for it, but we know this is still not how life is meant to be. This will pass.

The reason why so much of this feels strange, in particular to those who worship, is not just because it limits us, but because of something far more fundamental, far more theological and biblical. The whole point about the Christian faith is that in Jesus Christ, God became intimate with us. The incarnation is just that, God becoming intimate with humanity. God did not choose an abstract or all powerful way of coming to live among us, God chose for himself to be born of a woman, born in a stable and laid in an animal feeding trough. Almighty became lowly; heaven came to earth and lived among us. This was God’s choice, to come, and in coming, ultimately to die. What a generous and life-giving gift for us all.

All through Jesus’ ministry we see him become intimate with God’s people. As a baby, shepherds and kings visited him and knelt. As a boy, he was to be found in the Temple with the priests and the teachers of the law. As a man, he lived and moved around the shores of Galilee preaching and teaching, visiting and touching. Those who society looked down upon, Jesus stood alongside, those whom we might reject, he healed. Those who would follow, he sent out. This is a God who knows how we feel inside and indeed knows us better than we know ourselves. This is the God who is in the hands of the nurse, in the heart of the scientist searching for a vaccine, and in the same room of the lonely person, shielding at home. We are not alone, when two or three are gathered together, or even when we are so painfully lonely.

The wonders of modern technology have helped us so much in these days and will continue to do so. I am preaching now not just to this congregation but you at home, separated from worshipping here today and indeed I am preaching to anyone who has ears to listen, anywhere in the world. We would never have imagined that six months ago. We have much to learn about communication two meters apart or two continents apart and we here will develop this into a truly meaningful and valuable resource. But even so, watching a screen is not the intimate greeting or the gentle touch. God is the God of touch, and if digital communication is what we have to rely on for the time being, even through this God can touch our hearts.

But there is still more in this intimacy from and with God. As well as the incarnation, we can be reassured that God is intimate with us because he has chosen to be, chosen through creation. God has made humanity out of his essential nature of love. God is love, and those who live in love, live in God, and God lives in them. We know that it is love that is the full expression of the intimacy of God. And love, is costly. This is why we live lives that can be at risk of a virus, because you cannot create love without risk, for it would not be love. Love is love, because it can be lost. The cost to God is the knowledge of every living person, living and suffering and dying - that is the cost to his heart of love. The creation is given at huge gift to us, and huge cost to God. But love conquers all.

Two meters is slightly more than this (holding outstretched arms) - two meters is probably the width of the cross of Jesus. Two meters held his arms apart. But his open arms, pinned to two meters of wood, are the outstretched arms not of death but of love, of the resurrection. Jesus died on the cross as the ultimate sign of God’s love, open arms in which we can find the intimacy of God. Perhaps it is our task to ensure in all our restricted dealings with one another at this time that we ensure the two meters between us is where Jesus stands among us. Or to use pandemic vocabulary, the wonder of faith is that in creation, on the cross, in the life of the Holy Spirit, God has placed us, you and me, in his bubble.

The Very Revd Stephen Lake, Dean of Gloucester


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