Reflection by the Revd Helen Scamman
“Fear… we feel it, don’t we, when we hear of someone perhaps our own age who is seriously ill with coronavirus, or when someone brushes past us, just that bit too close? Perhaps fear grips us when we hear the dire economic forecasts, or read of hints by medical experts about measures to restrict movement being necessary a long way into the future.
There are different aspects to this fear – it seems to me that there is firstly a fear of harm, often a very instinctive reaction to the possibility of serious disease for us, or for those we love. There are other fears too, however. One is the fear of being overwhelmed by the situation. Perhaps that might be when we consider the economic impacts for us, for society in general, or for our own particular church, as we look at the most recent financial update from the treasurer. Perhaps we fear being overwhelmed by pastoral need, or by the inner pressure we may put on ourselves to produce YouTube videos that outshine the church down the road. It is all too easy to fear that we will not be up to the job. And there is another fear – fear of the unknown. We are all wrestling with this aren’t we? We are given hints, sketchy outlines, and hear endless discussions of the possible future before us. Underneath it all, there is the sense that even the experts are casting around in the dark, in totally unknown territory.
In all these ways, fear is never far away.
But what did Jesus have to say to those who lived in fear, in an uncertain world, under the rule of a hostile empire, at a time when life was nasty, brutish, and often short? There was cause then, at least as much as now, to be afraid.
He didn’t give a 10 point plan – of ways of managing fear, helpful as we might have found that. He didn’t offer easy assurances. He walked alongside his people, and he experienced what it was to be fully human. In that shared humanity, he reassured those who worried about their physical needs, pointing to a loving Father and a future destination. He held out his hand to Peter, stopping him from sinking as he tried to walk on the water, overwhelmed by fear. He got into the boat with the disciples, who thought they were about to die, calming the storm. He talked to his disciples about their future home, in which they would be with him. He joined those who cowered behind closed doors, and showed them the resurrection life. He walked with those who felt their world had turned upside down, on the road to Emmaus, and helped them makes sense of it all. Nowhere did he promise that life would be easy, that suffering could be avoided, or that the future could be certain, not in this life.
What he did do, however, was to live out and share these truths, even in the face of fear:
When fearing harm, you have a Father in heaven who knows you fully and cares for you absolutely.
When fearing being overwhelmed, you have a Saviour who is present and powerful in the storm.
When fearing an unknown future, you have a future destination in him, which is the only certainty in this life.
We are not given pointers or platitudes, we are given a presence…. the presence, through the Spirit, of a Father who loves us, a Saviour who walks with us, and the hope of a future more glorious by far than anything in this life.
The other day I went running in the late evening, in the rain, when all the jobs of the day were done. As I ran along the road, looking ahead, the streets lights suddenly petered out, and I was in utter darkness. I am not normally afraid in the dark, but in the eerie quiet of lockdown, with darkness looming, fear gripped my heart. I started imagining the ‘what if’s’.
In that moment I was reminded of the words used by George VI in another dark time, the winter of 1939, when the future seemed at least as uncertain as it does now:
‘I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.’