The View from the (vacant) Rectory - June 2020
"Death was agonising. After the symptoms appeared .... fever consumed victims within a variable period. So many died, and so widespread was the infection that the normal offices of the church had to be suspended. Extreme unction was rarely given and families were discouraged from sitting at the bedside of afflicted relatives.
It was a lonely and excruciating death." Does that sound familiar? Perhaps the reference to extreme unction gives us a hint. Not the coronavirus, but a monkish account of the arrival of the Black Death in Southern Scotland in 1349, when it is reckoned that across Europe more than half the population died - no social distancing, no Nightingale hospitals then.
This brings home the fact that throughout history there have been devastating pandemics, outbreaks of various illnesses which wreaked havoc on the population. The so-called "Spanish ‘Flu" pandemic of 1919 killed more than had died in the then very recent First World War. In the Probus newsletter for last month, our chairman Henry Roberts regaled us with a vivid account of the sacrificial self-isolation of the villagers of Eyam, in Derbyshire, in the face of the dreaded Plague in the mid-17th century. We read in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, of numerous plagues or waves of disease which swept across the ancient world.
All of which brings home to us the fact that, although the coronavirus itself may be "new", epidemic illness and death are not. Down the ages, deadly disease has wreaked havoc time after time, leading to the thought that this is God's judgement on men and women for having strayed from His ways, disregarding His commands and forsaking His way of life.
This was certainly how such outbreaks were viewed in Biblical times, and on through to the Middle Ages. But we must beware of taking such a view of matters during the present outbreak. There is little doubt that in many respects mankind in general (and that includes us) has moved far from what we see as God's ways, but the God in whom we believe is not a vengeful, self-righteous deity, quick to take offence and to take it out on those of us who anger him. It is true, of course, that modern technology has brought the present pandemic to our television screens and into our living rooms as never before. But, as Jesus himself told us on numerous occasions, our God is a God of love, quick to forgive our transgressions when we truly repent of them. It is God's love which inspires the heroes of our NHS, whose self-sacrificing care we have been applauding every Thursday evening and on so many other occasions. It is God's love which has led to so many acts of kindness and care for others in our community.
So let us continue to give thanks for that love, in our prayers and through the services which we are able to share through the same wonders of modern technology. And let us remember always that however dark the outlook may appear (and we are still nowhere near the end of the tunnel) our loving God is always there, ready to put His shielding arms around us.