Last Sunday morning we looked at the period of exile from the Promised Land experienced by the Israelites of the Old Testament, and how they came back to Jerusalem only to find it in ruins. We remembered that the Israelites were told not to hark back to the old days, but instead to pray for the blessing of the place to which they had been forcibly removed, as by so doing they would themselves be blessed – not an easy task when all that was familiar was gone, as Daniel and his friends discovered. Nehemiah and the other returning exiles also had to find the strength to pick up their tools to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, amidst attempts at sabotage by others unsympathetic to the work, but with courage and a great deal of community enterprise they got the job done. We likened this time of pandemic to being in exile in a strange land, and thought about how we will need to rebuild our own church and community life now that restrictions are easing. We concluded that now was the time to strengthen our own sense of community as the people of God in this place, so that we could rebuild the walls and see what God had in store for us.
We hope that that message encouraged you, so that you will plan to return to church as soon as you feel comfortable doing so. We keep saying that we have made church services about as Covid secure as anything else you might now be able to do, but we recognise that for some of you it’s your own sense of confidence that needs rebuilding before you can think about rebuilding community. This is a problem that is affecting countless thousands of people in this country, and we are very grateful that we have a Saviour who has walked our paths and knows just how this feels. Jesus himself experienced a crisis of confidence in the garden of Gethsemane, and we are sure that one of the reasons he took himself off regularly to meet on his own with his Father was to replenish his own sense of purpose and identity.
So, we want you to know that when you are ready to do so, this place where God has placed us all is ready and most definitely waiting to receive you. You might not have entered the doors for over 15 months, but that doesn’t mean that those of us who have already ‘returned from exile’ don’t need you. Nehemiah was not the first to return to Jerusalem- in fact some had never left – but the walls had not been rebuilt by those he found there already. It required all of them to do the work and once they started to rediscover their identity as the people of God in that place, the work was done exceptionally well and in record time. God has a plan and purpose for our church in these new days, so when He calls you, please be ready and willing to come and help us fulfil them. Let’s get our children and families back in the building; take communion together even if we are using small disposable cups and wafers; share each other’s burdens and pray together again; and let’s see what God has in store that is new and full of promise, ready to bless the local community which has itself known exile and is so much in need of hope.
With our love and prayers,
Matthew and Pauline