People of God have much to remember
As the lockdown starts to ease, and a version of normality returns, Andy Bryant reminds us that there are many things we need to remember, and lessons to learn.
With further easing of the lockdown and beautiful warm sunshine, suddenly the beaches were heaving, busier than even the busiest Bank Holiday. Social distancing seemed forgotten. And local residents were clearly forgotten too as mountains of rubbish were left behind.
Many were quick to condemn those who had seemingly acted so irresponsibly, and, amidst the crowds, there were clearly some who did more than cross a line. Yet after weeks of lockdown many people just needed to get out there, do something different, have a good time. Talk of a second spike was not enough to stop them…because we are good at forgetting.
Now that the bars open and the alcohol flows, will we still remember and learn to keep our social distance? If the experience of supermarkets is anything to go by, despite signs and one-way systems, when it comes to making sure we get our favourite foods it seems shortcuts are acceptable. When it is the party we really want to attend, when it is our football team that wins, when it is our passionate political cause in the headlines, are we not tempted to gather…because we are good at forgetting?
When this pandemic began, NHS and Care Sector staff, along with key workers, were hailed as heroes. Each Thursday we stopped to clap and express our appreciation. But time has moved on; Covid numbers are declining, lockdown is lifting, and the clapping has stopped. But Covid is not over, and before and beyond Covid, NHS and Care Sector Staff and key workers already were, and will continue to be, heroes; but will we continue to remember this…because we are good at forgetting?
But before we rush to judgement, or criticise those we feel are not behaving as we would wish, we need to remember that the story of the Bible, and especially of the Old Testament, is a story of forgetting. From the Garden of Eden onwards, God’s people show themselves to be forgetful.
In the Garden, Adam and Eve forget all that has been gifted them in creation all for one more apple. In the wilderness, the people of God forget the true horrors of life in slavery, they forget the miracle of the dividing of the Red Sea, Mana from Heaven and water springing from rocks. When they come to the Promised Land, they forget it was gifted them by God, not won by their own hands. They forget the Covenant between themselves and the one true God, and go seeking after other gods. They forget that they were once strangers in a foreign land and fail to care for those aliens and dispossessed in their own land. And when the prophets, and even God’s own Son, try to remind them, they reject them because they have grown comfortable in their forgetting.
And their story is our story. We too are forgetful. The history of history is that we do not learn the lessons of history. Each generation likes to think itself better than the generations before them but seemed doomed to repeat the same mistakes. There have always been pandemics that have brought civilisations to their knees. We knew this but were not prepared; once again we had grown forgetful.
Salvation comes in learning to remember. In the biblical story it comes with the rediscovering of the Books of the Law, in the renewing of the Covenant, in listening to the Prophets, but it never lasts. Each time the cry goes up: it will be different this time, we will not make the same mistakes, we can do it differently. For a while, perhaps, changes are made but they do not last. The chattering classes speak of a new normal, of not going back to how it was, and no doubt this is sincerely meant. Our history suggests that there will be few lasting changes.
In Norwich Cathedral there is a memorial with one cross for each life lost to Covid-19 in the County of Norfolk, pictured above. The Cathedral wanted to make sure that as the focus turned to the lifting of lockdown, the easing of restrictions, we do not forget all those who have suffered through this pandemic, those whose lives have for ever been changed by this time. But even the best memorial becomes too familiar and its power to remind us weakens.
Knowing our history of being forgetful, how can we make sure we remember? The challenge for us is to make this time different from all the other times. The odds are not in our favour, but somehow, this time, lessons do need to be learnt; we need to find a way to reset. When some, the few, remember will we listen to them? Or are we doomed to forget? In our desire to pick up the threads of life before lockdown will we just weave the same old familiar pattern?
Read the story on Network Norfolk about Rev Bryant preparing a special memorial in Norwich Cathedral to those who have died during the pandemic here.
The image of Rev Bryant placing the candles in Norwich Cathedral is courtesy of Bill Smith.
The Revd Andrew Bryant is the Canon for Mission and Pastoral Care at Norwich Cathedral. He was previously Team Rector of Portishead, Bristol, in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, and has served in parishes in the Guildford and Lichfield Dioceses, as well as working for twelve years with Kaleidoscope Theatre, a charity promoting integration through theatre for young adults with Down’s Syndrome.
You can read Andrew's latest blog entry here and can follow him via his Twitter account @AndyBry3.
The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Norwich and Norfolk, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate between website users.