To venable (verb): To randomly muse upon this and that.

Archive for the ‘Coronavirus’ Category

Funerals Now?!

The coronavirus outbreak has affected the way funerals are conducted. The main specific impact is that the number of attendees is restricted in number. In our area it is to ten people.

The question I want to confront in the light of this is: how do we deal with helping people to mourn? In the process of grieving the funeral marks an important closure point. The initial period of overwhelming sadness between the death and the funeral is brought to an end. Moreover, there is a sense of having done everything well by appropriately and reverently undertaking the funeral. In doing so you have honoured the memory of the deceased. It’s from then on the mourners can move forward in their lives. They no doubt continue to grieve, but they do not have to face another event to reopen the mourning process.

The conundrum at this time is whether memorial services at some point down the line are an appropriate way to include more people in the mourning and give due public tribute to the deceased. Alternatively, is it better to seek to embrace more people more closer to the time of decease through an online funeral?

Each would be lacking in certain way and are not ideal. With a memorial service there is opportunity to share grief with others in the flesh. However, the main problem concerns  the wait; there is the continuous hanging on for the memorial service. At this time with all the uncertainty concerning the lifting of lockdown there is really no date that can be fixed for a service. And then there is the further ingredient of uncertainty engendered by the perpetuating of social distancing after the lifting of lockdown.  This leads to so much uncertainty. And the waiting for that service can lead to an open-question about the closure that the initial funeral should have brought.

The importance for allowing for proper mourning was brought home to me in reading this article. In it we read:

Petty’s problems with anorexia and bulimia started when she was in her late teens, after her grandfather died.

“I didn’t really mourn,” she says. “I just got on with my life. I went to the gym every single day. At lunch and after school. I think that was my way of coping.

Hence the issues appertaining to the proper use of a funeral are not just speculative. They can be a key means for granting the opportunity to mourn and the healthily to move forward. The funeral cannot guarantee this, but it can be of great assistance.

As I write this I do not fully know what is best. Probably on balance I would feel that an online funeral service is wholesome. This can also providentially give opportunity for many to participate who through distance or infirmity would not be able to attend a building based service.  provides the necessary closure element. We did this as a church with the funeral of Margaret Lee last month. Here is the recording of the funeral. We also produced an online memorial for her which is here.

Should the route of a memorial service be chosen I suggest that the mourning family should be counselled to consider the burial or  funeral service to be the time of closure. The memorial service can then be viewed as a time to be encouraged by the presence of others who held the deceased in high esteem.

The uncertainty of when such a memorial service can take place needs to be borne in mind in any helping and counselling of the family and friends of the deceased through the time between the funeral and memorial service.

Can We Have Our Rainbow Back?

One of the curious outcomes of the coronavirus outbreak is that the rainbow can be recovered by Christians. It is now a symbol of hope as it should be. It is in so many windows. It is on display in order it engender a sense of optimism concerning the outbreak being over sometime. The sight of it declares hope of a better day. And that is what it is. As we go back to Genesis 9:13-17 we read.

 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,  I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

The rainbow is the sign of covenant and hope. A sign of a God who keeps His promise.

Alas the rainbow has been hijacked, and dare I say tarnished, in recent years as a symbol of Pride festivals and the symbol of the LGBT+ movement in general.

Out of the blue though, the rainbow has returned to the grasp of the general populace. Rather than being the emblem of a segment of society, it is now back within the embrace of us all.

But as Christians we must take it the rightful stage further. It is a sign of hope in a God who withholds judgement. Like judgement fell once in the flood and never will fall again in a flood, so judgement fell once on our Saviour at Calvary’s cross and never will fall again. And thereby we have hope of an ultimate better day. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Judgement is past for the believer in Jesus; never will it fall again, because it once fell on our Lord. Therefore we are the true rainbow people.

So remember “whenever you see a rainbow” that God is love.

Why We Should Not Meet At Present

Although I write this some 42 days into the phase of full lockdown as a result of the coronavirus in the UK, I still feel it is worthwhile to iterate why we are not meeting as churches neither in our building nor in any physical context.

The four key determining principles according to scripture are:

Subjection to Authorities The message from the government in general is to avoid non-essential social contact and stay-at-home. Specifically they have ordered the closing of places of worship including churches. In 1 Peter 2:13-14 we read Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor[ as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. So we seek to follow this call at this time which leads us to the cancelling our services.

Sacrifice. At this time others are restricting their activities for the common good, it would be reasonable for us to be sacrificing to the same end and so restricting our activities. At the heart of our faith is a Saviour who self-sacrificed for the good of others.

Love The whole premise on which the present government policy is based is that the less social contact there is then the less chance there is for the virus to spread. This will mean lives will be saved. It will also mean that the health service will be able to cope with the demands upon it and respond to help other emergency cases. Love to our neighbour drives us to cooperate with this policy.

Witness. To be seen to be carrying on our public meetings together when others have stopped their activities can declare that we do not care for those around us. Such a declaration can cause great harm to the cause of Christ and testimony of the church.

In not being able to meet we should feel the pain. We are called to be a people who live in community. Using the technology available to facilitate this is good, and we must use it vigorously so as to do our churches good. However, the call of Hebrews 10:24-25 looms large and should impact us: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Meeting through screens is not the same as meeting face-to-face. 

Moreover, having established that it is proper that we should withdraw from meeting at this time, we can easily drift into settling down to this being an acceptable way going forward.  We need to be jolted out of such thinking. Yes we need to make the best of our online situation, but we should be longing to be back in church together.

Finally we note that this is an issue of public health. Accordingly we are persuaded to acquiesce with the demands upon us. Should this slip into being a religious issue then our response should be somewhat difference. It is one thing to stop meeting to assist in the maintenance of good public health; it is a very different matter to stop meeting because we declare that Jesus is LORD and the only Saviour and the authorities, as a result, are insisting that we close.

 

 

It Is Something.

I have read much about what this time is not in terms of church life. Much of it focuses on the fact that if we are not meeting together “in the flesh” then this cannot be real church. I certainly understand that and agree with it.

However, I am also very concerned that we do assert that this is a time when we can be something. The danger is that we say we cannot properly be church meeting together in congregation and therefore we just give up until normality resumes and then we pick-up where we left off.

Through the providential workings of the Lord we can be something at this time because of the provision of online technology. This allows us to meet together. it lacks in certain ways, but it does provide something. and through this we can fellowship, we can hear God’s Word and we can…. Well we can do a lot of things. I have written here about my view on celebrating the Lord’s Supper now.

And then we think of the evangelistic opportunities that there are are online now and also through conversation and contact with others. in many ways there may well be opportunities now that would not arise at any other time. There are three main reason for this:

  1. We are shaken. The normality of our existences across the whole globe has been shaken. Even going to the shops has taken on a whole new meaning. People are looking for answers.
  2. We face death. The reality of death has been all the more vivid through the dreadful spread of the coronavirus.
  3. We have time on our hands. A lot of people have more time on their hands than normal.

In all this we need to be aware that God has set us for such a time as this. As Mordecai challenged Esther those years ago in Esther 4:14: For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  Moreover, he has given us the means of technology to make a lot of this time.

I just fear that much could be lost in terms of building up the people of God and reaching out to others because we are just fixated on what this time is not. Let us read of Nehemiah and what he told the people after he had surveyed the wall in Jerusalem and be stirred. And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work (Neh. 2:18).

The people of this world are seeking many ways and means to support others and others through this time through the innovative use of technology. Surely we as the church should be zealous to use all the time and means at our present disposal to advance the cause of our God.

So let us rise up and serve the Lord.

Church Newsletter

Here is our church newsletter for April 2020. It contains an article on how we can function as a church at this time.

The Lord’s Supper Now?!

Many, even most, churches around the world at this present time are not allowed to congregate in assembly as normal. As a result there have been necessary adaptations to church life. Generally these have involved the use of online technology. One specific issue that has been raised is that of celebrating the Lord’s Supper in communion together. Is it possible to be celebrating the Lord’s Supper when our only gathering can be online?

Two basic principles need to be established initially:

  1. We cannot begin to think that this is normal church. It is not. Normal church involves interacting with one another in the flesh, in community, together. To think that meeting online is normal is foolish and sets us up for all kinds of problems should this time pass.
  2. We should be seeking, as much as lies within us, to function as churches. We should not give up in despair and say that nothing can happen now so let’s down tools and wait for the calamity to pass. No! Rather we should be seeking as much as possible to fulfil the call of Acts 2:42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

But can we legitimately seek to continue to celebrate the breaking of bread in the Lord’s Supper at this time. Here are my thoughts:

The Supper Frames The Church:  For a church to exist it must be framed around certain doctrinal understandings. Such understandings all focus and cohere in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This message declares how Christ alone came to rescues sinners from their sins by His death, burial and resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 11:26 we read For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. The sacrament when celebrated frames the church in the fundamental doctrine of Christ. To give it up too easily prejudices the welfare of the church.

Yes the Church is also critically framed by the preaching of the Word, but the Lord’s Supper feast is vital.

The New Covenant : We are a people of the new covenant. We are a people of the reality that Christ has done everything and we are blessed in Him. We are a people of the new covenant day; the first day of the week which is resurrection day. This is our special day of worship. It surely must appropriately, even essentially, be a part of our Lord’s Day to celebrate the new covenant feast. If we fail to do so we fail to give the people in our care the opportunity once again to define themselves in the new covenant.

Remembrance: The essence of the establishing of the feast is to make sure at that we call to mind the reality of our Lord Jesus dying for us. To fail to celebrate deprives the church of this memory prompt. We are so easily prone to drift away from the essentials of our faith. The Lord’s Supper when properly celebrated energises the remembrance juices of the church in the right direction. And as we note the importance of remembrance we hear the words of our Lord in the institution  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood (Lk. 22:19-20). 

Oneness: Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a declaration of our oneness in Christ. During this time of being fragmented physically by necessity we even more so need the spiritual declaration of oneness in the communion feast.

 

With these points in mind we have to ask whether there is any legitimacy in celebrating the Lord’s Supper in an online way. Some would say that to even think of that is to think of the impossible. But is that the case? We do need to assert that anything less than the actual having the emblems physically shared is less than ideal. Nevertheless we must be aware that if we fail to celebrate the Lord’s Supper we lose so much and deprive our people of so much.

It must be a judgement call whether the means to our hand are sufficient so as to make a reasonable approximation to the actual celebration. To use some online connection and allow people to provide their own appropriate bread and cup at home seems to me to be reasonable way of maintaining the value of the Lord’s Supper into the life of the church.

But some would say that this trivialises the feast. My rejoinder would be that the feast can be trivialised in whatever way you take it. The important things is how it is led. Appropriate decorum can be achieved online. However, having people sat at home does mean that there is an extra caution here as regard to not being too causal.

For those who conclude that we must wait until we are able to meet again in the flesh, I would counsel that the Lord’s Supper should not be ignored in the interim. A proper declaring of an uncelebrated Lord’s Supper at least draws the people to be aware of what are the privileges in the Lord’s Supper celebration that they are missing. And this can give anticipation of when it can be celebrated again.

But I ask how long will you wait? We do not know how long this extremity will last. Are we wise to restrict our churches from the Lord’s Supper blessing when there are ways to make it work?

For those who would rather not celebrate the Supper I wold not want to scorn such scruples. However, I would want to urge a thinking through of the New Testament delineation of corporate spiritual life which is so very different to the Old Testament. In the Old Testament the regime is very strict and tangible; the ceremony is strictly prescribed. In the New Testament the order is far more flexible. There are principles which must be adhered to so as to honour the Lord. The beauty of these principles, though, is that they can be outworked in all kinds of cultural circumstances. Can they not be outworked now? I fear that overly restricting the celebration to certain physical circumstances is harking back to an Old Testament Day that has passed.

This leads me to ponder on the providential operations of God. Has He not sufficiently provided us with the wherewithal to operate as churches during this time? Can we not accept even the computer technology as a providential gift?

In all this I want to clearly assert that I believe that the Lord’s Supper is a feast for the church. It is “a when you come together feast” (see 1 Cor. 11:18). I do not want to encourage an individual celebrating of the Lord’s Supper. It is a church ordinance.

So these are my musings. Good believing people and churches will reach different conclusions. I plead respect and courtesy for those who see things differently to us. Above all may there be a desire to seek to honour the Lord and edify His people among us at this time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus (6)

I last wrote some two weeks ago. Since then I have not been well. May well have had a mild dose of COVID 19. However, it has not been possible to get a test. I am now feeling stronger.

It has been a bizarre time with all the hiatus around appertaining to the transformation of our society through the restrictions that have gradually, but swiftly, changed how we interact with one another. This has had a significant impact upon us as a church.

As churches we are left with something of a tension. We do not want to give the impression that a virtual church conducted online is how it should be. It certainly is not. Church is meant to be lived out with real face-to-face community. However, neither do we want to give up in despair and say that there cannot be anything of church at this time. We do want to engage best with what is technologically available to facilitate fellowship and the functioning of the church.

We have been using ZOOM thus far as our main means of gathering. The advantage of this platform is that there can be interaction and there is a sense of us being together. Live-stream facilities seem to have a far better presentation, but less sense of community.

This is all a new voyage and there should be understanding within churches and between churches. I suggest that as long as four main guidelines are operative then, although we may be doing things differently, we will be on the right lines:

  • we are seeking to operate according to the principles of scripture.
  • we are seeking to do all to edify the people.
  • we are seeking all for the glory of God.
  • we are zealous in prayer.

It is good to feel somewhat brighter again. The last two weeks have been somewhat bewildering and a struggle. However, I look back to the keeping power of our God and thank Him for how He has led us as a church and family.

 

 

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