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All You That Are Weary

By Canon Chris Palmer

I’m starting to get lockdown fatigue. At first, in March, lockdown had a novelty about it. It was restricting and annoying, but at least it was new. And we had to work hard to find new ways of being church and being human – from learning new digital technologies, to remembering to keep two metres apart, to working out what to do in ‘one form of exercise a day.’

Now, even though the lockdown is lighter, there is a weariness about all this. The psalmist prays, ‘How long, O Lord, how long?’, and I’m certainly asking how long is all this going to last. How long will we be socially distancing in church and the supermarket? How long will we be asking questions about a ‘second spike’? How long will the economic effects of lockdown last?

I am very aware, from talking with lots of people, that lockdown has affected everyone differently. Some found it hardest at first and then settled into it. Some found extra time in lockdown good, but the peril of lost income or employment is more present now. Some found the near instruction to exercise a motivator to get fit. Others lacked motivation for most things and found the lack of structure oppressive. Some were working on the front line and had less time and more pressure than ever before. Some found themselves rebelling against the rules and strictures, experiencing the loss of close human contact with others as a greater risk than the risk of disease.

Two acts of worship that I led at the Cathedral last week spoke words that seemed appropriate to the situation. On Wednesday, I officiated at a short service at Bishop Lacy’s tomb, a place of healing and pilgrimage in the late Middle Ages. We read from Mark’s Gospel:

“That evening, at sunset, they brought to Jesus all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…’ Mark 1.32-34

Then at a weekday Eucharist I read this Gospel reading:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11.28-29

These readings seem to speak of a rounded, holistic understanding of well-being that includes our physical, mental, spiritual, and social wholeness. Jesus recognises each person as important, and ministers to the ‘whole city’.

The church today is called both to receive and minister Christ’s healing. This is not a vocation we bear alone: healing is ministered also by many others working in the health services, social services, charitable organisations, those campaigning for justice, and neighbourhood care scheme.

But the church is called to name Christ as the one from whom we receive and in whose name we offer healing. And the church can be a place that holds the sense of loss and the frustration or lethargy of lockdown, the place where God allows us to express these feelings without fear, as well as expressing our hopes and longings and enthusiasms.

Since we first opened the doors for private prayer, we have invited people to write prayers on origami paper, and we’ve folded these into birds, which we plan to hang as a visual display of the longings of people’s hearts. The particular prayers are known only to God – enclosed in the folds of the paper – but the rainbow display of colourful birds expresses our prayers that join together and fly to heaven.

This is just one way of voicing our prayers. There are as many others as there are people. We are planning a Quiet Day, Bend an ear, God, on 22 August which will explore these themes more. But however you find it best to pray, know that your voice joins with countless others, and that God delights to hear and heal his people.