27th May 2020

Reading The Signs

(from www.churchofscotland.org.uk)


Matthew 16:1-3 
Some Pharisees and Sadducees were on him again, pressing him to prove himself to them. He told them, “You have a saying that goes, ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.’ You find it easy enough to forecast the weather—why can’t you read the signs of the times?

As we begin to ponder what emerging from lockdown might mean for gathering as the body of Christ it strikes me that, in this season of Pentecost with the resurrection stories still ringing in our ears, we are once again invited to identify with the disciples as they worked out how to be community together.
Many of us have been discovering or re-discovering the things that matter about being church. We’ve been relearning and reconnecting with the stories of the people of God in every time and place.
We’ve been identifying with the pilgrims on the Emmaus Road, confused and dejected, trying, and failing, to make sense of the events that have overtaken them.
As Jesus walks alongside them, somehow he stabilises the disciples. How? By rooting them again in the ancient stories of faith which which they have grown up. By tracing for them the presence of God with people all through the ages. Jesus grounds them again in their faith - but he also helps them to begin to write the next chapter, the story that continues beyond the empty tomb. “Their eyes were opened and they recognised him in the breaking of bread.” It was in that ritual, a ritual they had shared with Christ just before he died that they were able to make the connection and recognise Jesus sitting at table with them. It was in that ritual that they were given confidence and energy to race back, in the fading light, to Jerusalem to share the news: Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
We don’t know when we will be able to gather again to share that meal but we have even more stories to tell than those two disciples on the road to Emmaus. In the midst of pandemic, we can recognise the risen, now ascended Christ, along with the gift of the Spirit walking alongside, helping us to reconnect our stories of faith. And, though we are in uncharted territory, isn’t that always the way of the people of God - learning how to make sense of a changed landscape in the knowledge of the living God by our side?
In confusion, grief, hurt, loss and yearning, we are grafted all the more to Christ the vine who enables and empowers us to keep on walking into the unknown. 
What Jesus did make clear is that everything was changed. There was no going back to “business as usual”. Living with pandemic takes us there too. Some of us may welcome that more than others. For those of us who long simply to go back to what we know, I wonder how much our perception of what we thought we had is real and not tainted by comfort and cosiness? And how much did what we were doing in our sanctuaries impact our communities?
As we emerge from the Easter season and welcome the Holy Spirit, how willing are we to co-write, with God, the next chapter of the story of God’s people? How prepared are we to walk the road in the darkness and uncertainty even knowing that the risen Christ walks beside us and the Spirit leads us? How will we make room for grief and lament and for fear and uncertainty. And, from our own bewilderment, how bold will we be to risk failure so that we can learn the new road that we are invited to walk as people of faith today?
And how patient will we be in sitting in that place of not knowing, that place of dependence  on God, that place to which we come with empty hands and full hearts and bruised and fragile spirits longing for healing and recommissioning as servants of God for this time? How will we read the signs?


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