Interpreting the signs of the times

Dear friends,
Now that March has arrived, our calendars and the budding daffodils in our gardens seem to confirm the weather forecasters’ assertion that (meteorological) spring has arrived – although we have to say that the cold wind in our faces during the walk that we’ve just completed would beg to differ!

The changing seasons remind us of the time when Jesus challenged some of the ruling authorities by saying ‘You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.’ (Matthew 16:3) In fairness to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were at the mercy of his challenge, they had seen the seasons change every year of their lives; and they had learned from experience what the sky looked like before a fine day and before a stormy day. However, they had never before encountered God’s Messiah, and sadly they had fallen into the trap of requiring him to conform to their expectations rather than to God’s perfect plan.

As we start to emerge from lockdown, we too face a situation that we’ve never faced before. It’s difficult to ‘read the signs’. The government relies on the signs given by ‘the data’ about the rates of infection and spread of Covid-19 and the effectiveness of the vaccination programme, interpreted to them by scientists and other experts. We in turn rely on the government’s legislation and advice, for example as set out in their recent ‘roadmap’, which is interpreted for us by our friends at the Baptist Union. Like every church or organisation, we then have to apply those laws and that guidance in the context of our own unique circumstances. It’s certainly not as easy as ‘red sky at night, shepherd’s delight’!

So along with the perseverance that we’ve been reflecting on over the last few weeks, we will need to exercise much patience, discernment and wisdom as we edge forwards. We know that what we will be able to do will be determined by the changing legislation and guidance along each step of the roadmap. We expect that we will resume meeting in person for worship once the ‘stay at home’ rule ends (hopefully on March 29th) and our neighbours are at least able to meet friends and family in their gardens. And we hope that each step along the roadmap can be taken on the earliest planned dates… but we understand that that is by no means certain. We will need to adapt as we go, initially returning to the sort of pre-booked, socially distanced services that we held in the autumn, but eventually looking forward to being able to remove the limit on numbers once we reach step 4.

As we interpret the signs given to us by scientists, government and the Baptist Union, we will also need to interpret the signs given to us by God. We must not assume that we should simply return to doing all the same things that we did until a year ago. We will be entering a new season, so what is God calling us to prioritise and prepare for in this new season? What part is he calling you to play in it? What is he saying to you and to us, that we need to listen to in order to fully ‘interpret the signs’ and fall into line with God’s perfect plan, rather than conforming to our expectations? As you reflect on those questions, please take the opportunity to share and discuss what you feel God is saying, so that together we can discern the way forward.

With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline