1st May 2020
St Philip & St James, Apostles
Pastoral Letter No. 10
Fr Andrew writes:
The Strength to Endure
Is it really May already? It was in March that our country shutdown and our church closed its doors. Life has changed for us all.
As the lockdown continues what might we say of endurance? It is not a fashionable word, but is one we need to grapple with and inhabit. An associated word, that is rather more in vogue, is ‘resilience’. Both words point to the long-term strength needed to withstand a period of trial. A pressing question also is how endurance relates to hope, the hope we so crave at the moment?
Endurance is about the ability to keep on going; resilience is about the ability to bounce back.
At baptism we are not given a jab of endurance or resilience, but the Christian life - shaped by the practices of the Eucharist, reflection on God’s word in scripture, pursuit of the Kingdom of God in ‘justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14.17) – does foster wells of endurance and resilience.
We see that endurance exemplified in saints ancient and modern: as St Paul describes ‘as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities…’ (2 Corinthians 6.4. See also 2 Corinthians 6.4-10; 11.23b-33); St Felicity, St Perpetua and their companions endured torture and death by mauling of bulls and lions; Terry Waite was held in isolation as a hostage and recalled psalms from memory to sustain him.
The saints direct their gaze upon the face of Christ to receive endurance - because he is the one who in love has endured everything for us already - ‘knowing’ as St Paul says ‘that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’ (Romans 5.3-5)
‘God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ is what enables the Christian to endure.
Sometimes that endurance can feel very elusive; we want it and cannot grasp it. It is then that we come closest to receiving it in the desolation of our lowest moments. It is in those moments that we can make the words of the psalms our own, ancient words which narrate our feelings of loneliness, abandonment and despair. For example:
‘Why, O Lord do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?’ (Psalm 10.1);
‘Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help’ (Psalm 22.11);
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest’ (Psalm 22.1,2)
‘I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight” But when you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help’ (Psalm 31.22).
Such words begin the path of endurance; we enter into the spiritual journey of those who have gone before us, and find we are not alone in our anguish.
Likewise, in the gospels we hear of people pouring out their frustrations and disappointments. The two disciples on the day of resurrection walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus say bluntly to Jesus, as yet unrecognised, ‘are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ (Luke 24.18). It’s as if there are saying: ‘are you for real? Don’t you get it?’
It’s like when the disciples cried out to Jesus on the boat in the storm ‘Wake up. Do you not care that we are perishing?’ (Mark 4.38)
Jesus asks the disciples on the road: ‘what things? Tell me’ (Luke 24.19), in other words, ‘pour out your hearts’. After stilling the storm he asks the frightened disciples, ‘where is your faith?’ (Luke 8.25). In both questions he is coaching us into finding endurance and to trust in him and in the faithfulness of God.
Crying out in despair is not a failure of faith: it is a prayerful cry of faith.
Yes, we want an end to this isolation and lockdown and we pray fervently for it; we pray for the strength to endure and to be spiritually resilient, knowing that our strength and endurance comes from God.
Remember us O God, and shape our history,
form our inward eyes
to see the shadow of the life-giving cross
in the turbulence of our time;
for his sake who died for all,
Christ our Lord.
(Common Worship: Daily Prayer, Psalm prayer for Psalm 136)