In sitting down to write this short message today, the title of the film came to mind as I paused to consider the current time we have just begun living through. And so I entitle this short reflection, “Love in a time of Corona-virus”.
When we become aware of the fragility of life, it tends to shine a new light on everything. Suddenly one begins to appreciate life and others far more than before. This was my experience leaving my brother and his family on Saturday morning ready to fly back to Belfast. Parting is never easy when you don’t see your family very often, but this time it was particularly difficult, not knowing what the future holds and not knowing when I will see them again. Suddenly a deep appreciation and love welled up from within and found physical expression in the form of tears which welled up in my eyes as we hugged and said our good byes.
Watching the BBC and Euronews channels on the plane on Saturday while flying over Africa towards Dubai for my first change over, it was very sobering to see what is unfolding in Italy. Italy is an alarm bell of much potential suffering to come.
And yet, that is the paradox of life. In the midst of great suffering is also the opportunity to discover great love. I have already seen this, not only in my heart welling up with a new sense of love and appreciation for my brother, his wife, my niece and two nephews, but also people checking in with us and offers by church members to make themselves available to help as Wendy and I self-isolate after my trip back from South Africa. It is also evident in the offers made towards others in our congregation and community who have been told to self-isolate. “Love never ends”, as St Paul puts it in his first letter to the Corinthians (12:8). And in times of crisis, it is often the case that love can grow.
Without wanting to be overly dramatic, in saying good by to my brother and family on Saturday morning, behind the tears that welled up in our parting, there was the question lingering in the background, not just wondering when I will see them again, but maybe even, depending on how bad all of this becomes both here and in South Africa, if I will see them again. Perhaps the scale of the deaths in Italy suggest that it might not be overly dramatic after all, especially as one hears that in some cases, it is not just the elderly and those with underlying health conditions that are being affected.
The corona-virus is reminding all of us of our mortality and of the fleeting nature of life in this world. The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it like this: “For here [in this world] we do not have an enduring city...”
I am aware that there are many in our own congregation with underlying health issues for whom the corona virus poses a very real threat. My older brother and sister-in-law living in London are in a similar situation, my brother living with a chronic lung condition and sister-in-law with type-1 diabetes. For many of us, questions of life and death, whether for ourselves or for those we love, are not far away. In the midst of the fear we may feel, perhaps there is also an invitation to begin to make peace with death, for, as Samuel Butler would remind us in the title of his book, “It is the way of all flesh.”
What might it mean to make peace with death? What might it mean to come to a place of deep, deep acceptance that either we or our loved one’s might not make it through this time of corona-virus? What kind of freedom might become ours when we are able to let go that deeply and that profoundly that we can make peace even with the possibility of death? And how do we even do that?
In the end, maybe it is only Great Love that can help us do that: the intuition and the affirmation that at the Heart of the Universe, there is a Presence and a Heart of Great Love into which we can let go and even fall, without fear, because “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). And maybe, even if we ourselves don’t know how to let go, the Heart of Great Love is ready for us anyway.
The poetic and metaphoric language of Scripture points us to this truth that seems to have reverberated in and through the life of Jesus.
- “Love is stronger than death...” says the writer of the Song of Solomon (8:6).
- “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come,” says the writer of Hebrews (13:14).
- “[Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” says the apostle Paul in Romans (8:38-39).
If, and when it is time for us to leave this world, and it could be sooner than later, the life of Jesus suggests that there is indeed a Heart of Great Love into which we will all be invited to fall, and let go.
And so, in this time of crisis that is really only beginning for us, may we find love in a time of corona-virus. A new and deeper appreciation of the love we have for our friends and loved one’s. A new and deeper love and appreciation for what really matters in life. And a new and deeper intuition in the depth of our hearts that there is a Heart of Great Love that holds and sustains us whether in this world or beyond it; the assurance in our hearts that “underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27), another way of expressing what Huston Smith says when he writes that you can never fall out of the Infinite.
Prayer: O God, Whose Love surrounds us, grant that whether our lives are short or long, we may have lived abundantly. In the Name of Christ, Amen.