Lockdown Lessons; the importance of waiting

By The Revd Canon Andy Bryant, Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care - 26 May 2020
Norwich Cathedral (c) Bill Smith

It is a joy to enter the Cathedral once again to say Morning and Evening Prayer and to preside at Holy Communion.

And yet it is so strange. The building is so still. The peace globe is empty of candles, the Nave is empty of chairs and our great organ stands silent. It is as if the building is holding its breath, waiting for the doors to open and the people to come in, waiting for footsteps again on these ancient stones, waiting to receive the prayers of people, spoken and unspoken.

Throughout this time of lockdown, I have been drawn again and again to the image of the disciples waiting in the Upper Room, waiting and wondering what would happen next.

Waiting. We spend so much of our lives waiting and right now we are a nation in waiting. Waiting to know when the lockdown will be further eased, waiting to be reunited with family and friends and to visit our favourite places, waiting to see if the worst of this virus is passed, waiting for the time when public worship will be restored and this place will resound again to the great liturgies of the Church.

And in the Christian calendar this has been a time of waiting for the disciples. After Good Friday waiting in the Upper Room, afraid, behind locked doors, fearing the knock that could signify their arrest or worse.

After Easter Day, waiting, expectant, hopeful for the next encounter with their risen Lord. Part confused, part amazed, hardly daring to hope, yet more, and more, sure it was true.

After the Ascension again more waiting. Returning to the Upper Room and waiting and wondering. What was this promised gift of power? When would it come and how would they recognise it when it did come?

Although they do not yet fully know it, they are the Church in waiting, waiting to be born at Pentecost with the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. But waiting is not about life in suspension; it is not a holding of the breath.

Waiting is a time of gestation, of being forged in the fire, of willingly, or unwillingly, being re-shaped and re-moulded. Through this time of waiting the disciples have been changed. On Good Friday evening as they slipped one by one back into the Upper Room, they were unable to look at one another, each aware of their own betrayal of their friend. They were frightened, and afraid, jumping at every sound, looking at the door to check it was locked and wondering what protection it really gave them. They were waiting, waiting for the end.

Through their encounters with the risen Jesus slowly they have been changed, healed restored. Little by little they have grown in understanding, like the very first signs of light just before dawn. And now, after the Ascension, their waiting feels so different. It has an energy and an expectation. They want to be here in this place and they want to be together. They are no longer passively awaiting their fate. Now they are actively preparing for whatever will happen next. Anticipation has replaced fear. And they devote themselves to prayer.

As we wait for the lifting of the lockdown, we need to allow this to be a time of gestation, of reflection, of growth. We need to embrace the waiting and not resist it and allow it to change us, to remake us. It cannot be about going back to where we were but about moving on to where we need to be.

It has been a hard medicine, but lockdown has had many lessons to teach us. We have been sharply reminded of the people and places we too easily take for granted, those whose roles in our society we have too easily overlooked. We realise we have got many of our values and priorities upside down and we have muddled salary with status. We have had to face up to the fragility of life and accept that death is our ever-present neighbour. We need to learn to differently on this planet.

Covid-19 presents a very real danger. Lockdown has been the chosen way to face that danger and it varies from household as to how easy or difficult it has been facing up to these circumstances. But for each of us it is also a spiritual challenge. Who will we be, and how will we be, in facing up to these unusual times and when we move beyond them?

Initially the disciples were frozen with fear. Gradually they let themselves be changed and grow through their time in the Upper Room. Can lockdown also be for each of us a time of change and growth, a time when we can be more the people God longs for us to be?

And when lockdown finally ends, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, may we be enabled to walk more truly in the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour. Until then, with those first disciples, may we remain devoted to prayer.

The above is the Revd Canon Andy Bryant's reflection from the Cathedral's digital service on Sunday 24 May. Click here to see the service.

Picture: Bill Smith

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