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Sunday 14 November 2021

Weathering COVID-19

Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25

By Joe Aldred

Volunteer for the National Church Leaders Forum; non-stipendiary bishop in the Church of God of Prophecy for 25 years; Honorary Research Fellow at Roehampton University; member of the Windrush Cross-Government Working Group

Context: an inner-city African and Caribbean Pentecostal congregation of mixed age

Aim: to encourage the congregation to discover and act upon life enhancing factors after the adversity of the COVID-19 virus

Since the start of 2020, eschatology has become popular in our UK African and Caribbean churches and beyond. The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus quickly escalated into a pandemic that prompted national and international coping measures. In a sombre national TV broadcast, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the nation that he had to give the British people a very simple instruction, ‘you must stay at home.’ In the UK and around the world we have become accustomed to terms like lockdown, PPE, social distancing, and furlough. The shock effect of the virus coupled with the desperate search by scientists for a vaccine contributed to COVID-19, in the minds of some, quickly taking on a menace of apocalyptic proportions. For some among us this was a sign of the End Times the Bible speaks of. Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 13, 17, and 21 give us some signs of the End Times such as earthquakes, famines, pestilences, signs in the sky and sea, wars, false christs, false prophets and family feuds. None of these is new but some feel there is increasing intensity. The fear, doubt and apprehension is sometimes palpable.

That COVID-19 could on its own represent a definitive indicator of the end of the world requires a bit of a stretch of human imagination. But maybe not if COVID-19 is rebranded a ‘scamdemic’, the purpose of which is to inject the entire world with microscopic particles as a controlling device that enables the New World Order, with the ‘Man of Sin’ at the helm, to monitor and control the earth’s seven billion people. Not if a COVID-19 vaccine becomes the ‘Mark of the Beast’ of Revelation, a passport without which none of us can shop even for essentials. We Pentecostals turn to the Word of God for information, inspiration, and direction at times like this.

Our Old Testament text takes us to a time in history when God’s people had been exiled; first under Babylonian, then under Persian imperial rule. Daniel 12 tells of a situation of distress and perplexity and lost hope, and a prophet crying out to God for deliverance. In response God revealed to Daniel new possibilities where death is replaced by resurrection, and the wise shine out of darkness like the brightness of the heavens. Our Hebrews text speaks of an end to the Levitical priesthood with its ineffective sacrifices and other rituals, replacing them with a new order based on an eternal priesthood in Jesus Christ. Gone is the old way of legalities that could never effectively take away sins; in its stead comes a once for all eternal sacrifice that perfects forever those who are made holy by it. Here we see how the old wanes and gives way to the new, building confidence in the future. And now my friends we are called to put our faith in this resurrected Jesus the Eternal Son of God with full assurance of his efficacy. In the midst of the ambiguities, the messiness, the sadness, the uncertainties, God calls us to look to him, support one another, spurring one another on in love and good deeds; encouraging one another as we see a New Day coming into view.

So my sisters and brothers, girls and boys, this is a call to deal with the uncertainty of now, not through fear and apprehension but in assurance of faith in God and our relationship with God and our fellow human beings. We know about the disproportionate levels of sickness and death for ethnic minorities, the poor and the old. We are thankful for the miraculous recoveries, even as we mourn our many dead. We pray for grace to deal with suffering, isolation, bereavement, and financial challenges. We look towards the lifting of lockdown, the end of social distancing, the opening up of society, revisiting the memories of loved ones lost to COVID-19.

In this challenging moment let us work together to build a more just social, economic, and political society where ethnicity or race is not a determinant. Let us in our Pentecostal churches attend equally to maintaining good health and wellbeing and a strong immune system, even as we offer prayer for healing. Let us hold to account pharmaceutical companies, the scientific community, primary and secondary health and social care providers so we the church and Christian communities can partner in public health provision. COVID-19 may not signal the end of the world, but it is an opportunity – guided by God through scripture, reason and experience as people made in the image and likeness of God, full of creative possibilities – to respond to the challenges we face today and tomorrow.

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