© Graham Deans
As now a global crisis
Has brought us to our knees,
We pray for those affected
By illness and disease.
Amid their pain and suffering
They look in vain for comfort
As help cannot be found.
When nations are in lockdown
And few can get about,
Their desperation deepens
As faith gives way to doubt.
Our homes become like prisons
In which to be confined;
And many now are fearful
About their state of mind.
O Lord, enthroned in Heaven
Beyond our mortal gaze,
Give now to all the courage
To face these troubled days.
We long for liberation,
And pray for our release
When Christ shall come amongst us
To speak His word of peace.
© Graham D S Deans, b 1953
26-27 March 2020
Suggested tune: AURELIA by Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1810-1876
A recording of this hymn can be found below, recorded by Lanre Delano, C.E.O. of CHOPIN (Church Organ Projects in Nigeria).
Although the silencing of the songs of the people of God is not without precedent (see Psalm 137:4), many were particularly dismayed that the Coronavirus appeared to have succeeded in doing what neither two world wars nor any systematic persecutions had ever been able to accomplish.
The imposition of a strict lockdown which closed all places of worship has caused people to feel effectively sentenced to a form of house arrest, and forced them into a spiritual exile which has produced a real crisis of faith. Where, they ask, is God in all of this? What future is there for the Church? Where is our hope?
As I wrestled with such questions, my mind took me back to when I had to study Albert Camus’s novel, La Peste, which is currently experiencing a boom in sales. The book tells the story of how a devastating plague, spread by rats, swept with alarming speed through the French Algerian city of Oran. Oran had indeed suffered from several outbreaks of plague in the past, but Camus’s novel describes a fictional epidemic, during which Oran was forced into lockdown as the city gates were closed, to prevent the spread of infection. When its trapped citizens struggled to make sense of their plight, the city’s hard-line Jesuit priest, Father Paneloux preached a sermon in which he argued that the plague was divine in origin and punitive in purpose.
Critical times inevitably pose challenges to the community of faith – but they also tend to produce inept and inappropriate theological responses – as the fictional Father Paneloux began to realise all too late when he was struck by the death of a child from the plague. This forced him to begin to modify his opinions, which he expressed in a second sermon, but days later he himself fell ill with unusual symptoms, and later died.
Believing that the Coronavirus is neither divine in origin nor punitive in purpose, and rejecting Camus’s existentialist philosophy that life is ultimately meaningless and absurd, I have sought to make a more appropriate theological, pastoral, and spiritual response to the pandemic which has posed such a powerful challenge to the community of faith.
My hymn begins with an acknowledgement of the observation made by the Rev Dr Fergus Macdonald, in a pastoral message to the Free Church of Scotland on 23rd March 2020 that the (current) global crisis has brought us to our knees.
I have chosen to interpret that observation as a deliberate double-entendre. Firstly, it recognises the paralysing effect of the virus on society. But secondly, the expression is a powerful metaphor of how we are driven to our knees in prayer, in order to appeal for God’s help to ensure that the battle against a sinister and invisible enemy can be won.
Our prime concern in such prayer is therefore for all who are directly or indirectly affected by illness and disease – and for those who are becoming increasingly anxious, as they search for answers, but find none. Perhaps at such times, however, it is more important to be asking the right questions.
The second verse of the hymn has correctly anticipated the continuing and deepening sense of desperation as the virus has appeared to be able to spread unchecked and unhindered – a fact which has impacted strongly on our mental and spiritual health – and our growing sense of impatience, as the lockdown has proved to be more prolonged than anyone would have either wished or anticipated.
It has been claimed that “the best defence against Coronavirus is your front door.” But that is not strictly true. No home can be hermetically sealed against the source of infection. The sinister and invisible enemy can still get through doors – particularly through the keyhole or letterbox – but it’s not the only thing that can do so.
Think of how the Fourth Gospel records that the disciples of Jesus were in lockdown on the evening of the first Easter day – feeling fearful, disappointed, deflated, defeated, disillusioned, and demoralised by the things that had recently taken place, they felt unwilling or unable to face society ever again.
However, events took an unexpected turn. The locked doors proved to be no barrier to the risen and living Christ, Who met the disciples where they were, and offered them His comfort and His peace, thereby renewing their courage, and releasing them from their doubts and fears – and the conviction that He can do the same for us will enable us to face the future with greater confidence and faith.
Risen Lord Jesus,
Whose praise can never be silenced,
and against Whom
no door can ever be securely shut;
enter now into our midst, we pray;
and confront us in our moments of deepest doubt.
Bless us with the gift of peace,
such as the world can neither give nor take away;
and give rest to our troubled souls;
so that we may exchange our anxious fears
for an affirmation of faith,
thereby ascribing all praise and glory
to our Father Who is in Heaven,
where He lives and reigns
in perfect unity with the Son and the Holy Spirit,
now and to all eternity. Amen.
© Graham Deans