New Year, New Lockdown: New Hope?

By The Revd Dr Peter Doll, Canon Librarian and Vice Dean - 06 January 2021
Norwich Cathedral

This may be a new year, but we find ourselves still wrestling with last year’s dilemma. How can we balance the fearful reality we face with seeking reasons for encouragement and hope? We have to be realistic about where we are, but we need also need hope to give us a reason to keep going.

Despite the tragedies of the past year, we have been reminded of some fundamental truths about ourselves and our society. We have relearned the value of community, of knowing our neighbours, of supporting and being supported by them. We have also been reminded that many of those of our fellow citizens on whom we rely most to provide basic services necessary to survival – those who grow and transport our food, supermarket staff, cleaners and sanitation workers, carers and health professionals, and many others – are among the lowest paid people in our communities. This year they have been our heroes. But if life returns to ‘normal’, will they once again become undervalued and neglected?

The government is encouraging us to place all our hope on the vaccine being rolled out. Boris Johnson in one of his Christmas messages said, ‘I still think that feeling of hope is all around us this Christmas, because there really is a star in the sky, and it is growing brighter and brighter. And you know what it is, it’s thanks to the efforts of wise men and wise women in the east and elsewhere, we have a vaccine and we know that we are going to succeed in beating coronavirus.’

Grateful as we all are for the tremendous efforts that have been made to provide the vaccine, unless we are politicians we cannot regard it as our salvation or the answer to the challenges we face. There remain the more essential challenges of living as human beings in an ever-more-crowded world with limited resources.

As we watch the numbers of those infected with the virus rise inexorably day by day, we are all reminded of our own vulnerability, of the essential precariousness of human existence that our society has been working so hard to eliminate. Painful as this has been, this reminder has been one of the great gifts of the pandemic. We need a fundamental reappraisal of what is most important to us, a recalibrating of our values and lifestyles. We need to remember that the real star of Bethlehem was and remains God coming among us as a helpless baby to share our precarious human existence, even to the extent of being murdered on a cross. The only true hope for our world is if we can embrace the life of the kingdom he came to bring: rejecting intolerance, hatred and corrosive individualism, and committing ourselves to mutual care, to reconciliation between nations and faiths, to protection of the vulnerable, and to a just sharing of the resources of the world he created so that all may have enough not just to survive but to flourish as human beings.

If the struggles of the past year could help put us on to such a new trajectory, then all the suffering would have been worth it.

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