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St John’s Southgate

08 Jul 2020

One step forward two steps back

By Pastor Tom Hoffmann

It was all going so well!

Our go-hard-go-early approach to lockdown in Australia was lauded as an example of how it should be done. As restrictions were eased, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves, perhaps too good in Victoria.

More recently, we have found ourselves being tested by a spike in community transition, just as we have emerged back into the community. There has been more than a bit of moaning and groaning about reimposed restrictions or the delaying of restriction easing. But in this pre-vaccine coronavirus era, a back and forth, an expanding and contracting, an emerging then retreating might, I suspect, become an all too familiar pattern.

Jesus of Nazareth was no stranger to such patterns. He had a curious, if not bizarre, initial emergence into the public sphere which was straight away followed by a necessary retreat. When, as an adult, Jesus was ready to commence his preaching and teaching, he was baptised in the Jordan River. It was a big occasion.

The Holy Spirit descended and the voice of God was heard affirming Jesus. It would have seemed that from there on it would only be onward and upward for this messiah who had just been designated the chosen one by God in heaven. But that was not the case at all. Immediately following, he was whisked away into the wilderness where for 40 days he was tested by the devil.

Our experience over these coming months (perhaps longer) – while being less likely to be accompanied by the voice of God booming from heaven, or conversations with the devil – will be marked by contrast. We are going to have to learn to adapt to the highs of re-emergence being tempered by the testing periods of retreat. And even if things are going nicely for a while, and we think we have nipped it in the bud, the virus will still be out there, lingering, waiting for an opportune time.

In the scriptures, we read that after Jesus was tested for those 40 days in the wilderness, that the devil then left him. Left him, yes, but until an “opportune time”. Even Jesus could not avoid that opportune time that would be seized upon by his foe, and we are unlikely to heed every COVID-19 challenge off at the pass. But what we can be sure of, is that like Jesus would sacrifice a great deal to ensure the foe would not be the ultimate victor, we have skilled researchers working incredibly hard to find a vaccine so that hope might be restored to our communities.

Their tenacity and drive should encourage us to partner with the dance of emergence and retreat with as much grace and good humour as we can muster. But for those times when the isolation or economic impact is testing us to our limits, we can look to Jesus who was tested fiercely too, and who promises new and eternal life that, in the end, will prevail over any and every devilish challenge •

 

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