Cailey and I recently enjoyed a week in the Blue Mountains. The trees are beginning to show their autumn glory and there was just enough chill in the air to justify passing-away the evening in front of a wood fire.
Of course, holidays present the opportunity to visit a different church on Sunday—or to succumb to the temptation to avoid fellowship with God’s people (after all, no one is going to miss you in a place where no one is expecting you).
Happily, the Lord delivered us from such sluggardliness and we made our way to the local Anglican church. One of the best features of Anglicanism is that it has taken seriously the idea that every place should have access to God’s word. Even today, the Anglican Church is often the last ‘institution’ to leave a place.
Here was a group of spiritual friends, brothers and sisters who knew, to the bottom of their souls, that they are known and loved by a great and glorious and good God
So we were duly signed in and offered sanitiser by the friendly women who were chatting at the door and greeting people as they arrived. The rector had unexpectedly taken ill the night before and was in hospital—no one was quite sure what the problem exactly was—a retired and godly pastor had been called upon to lead and preach at short notice.
He demonstrated all the calm of one who is long practised in trusting the Lord with the unexpected. He preached a sermon on Jesus’ temptation and exhorted us both to trust in our champion who has defeated our enemy, and follow his example in resisting the ongoing wiles of the evil one. Someone fussed with an array of cameras and computers and iPads (no doubt livestreaming proceedings to the congregation in absentia).
We sang (with masks!), and were led in prayers which followed the Anglican pattern of expressing prayerful concern for the world, the community and the church. The sister who led us, prayed simply for the restraint of the coronavirus; for the church youth group; for those in the congregation burdened with ill health or grief. She also prayed for those with other struggles: those unemployed; people without homes or families in their new country of adoption.
Afterwards, we joined the congregation for morning tea. More than a couple of people welcomed us, took an interest in us and shared something of their own life and the life of the parish. We prayed with an old friend whom we were glad to see again.
If a stranger had walked by the church building that day they would probably have thought that nothing much was going on. If they had ventured inside and seen the small group of 30-40 mostly older people, they might have regretted it. But as Cailey and I returned to our holiday accommodation, I was struck by the stunning beauty of the gathered people of God.
Here was a group of spiritual friends, brothers and sisters who knew, to the bottom of their souls, that they are known and loved by a great and glorious and good God, whom they delighted to praise in song. They were glad and eager to hear his word and fed silently but certainly on its life-giving truth. They knew that the world is not right—that it needs the Lord’s gracious and loving intervention—and they humbly and confidently asked him to help. They understood their debt to love one another and those around them. They resolved to offer it in whatever way they could, to each other and to the community.
At the end of a week that was full of the trauma and anger and hurt of wrecked lives—from privileged school yards to Parliament House—here were people who had hope: a certain hope for a world where justice is done and every tear wiped away. So they are not consumed by sorrow or anger (though they might feel both) but live humbly, hopefully and fruitfully for the Lord who gave himself for them and for this weary and broken world. As we drove away from church last Sunday, I was reminded of the unexpected beauty of the church of Jesus, the Bride of Christ, the redeemed and transformed people of God: unremarkable in so many ways, and yet, spectacular.