Summer and Winter
Apparently in Game of Thrones, the Stark family have a saying “Winter is Coming.” It is a chill warning of dark and dangerous days ahead. I have started using the hashtag #SummerIsComing on social media. Why? Well, it feels very much like we are in the dark nights of winter as we face the isolation, fear and uncertainty that comes with COVID-19. The Government have suggested that it could take 12 weeks before things start to return to normal. #SummerIsComing is a reminder that there is hope ahead.
Martyn Joseph used to sing a song called “Sunday’s Coming.” It talked about the sense of despair on Friday as warmakers and troublemakers have their way. Sunday is coming. Every Sunday is rooted in the journey between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. That’s what we are talking about here, the journey from death to resurrection.
Comedy or Tragedy?
The Greeks and later William Shakespeare had two big genres of play. On the one hand, there was tragedy. Tragedies include plays like Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. Such plays may have their heroes, moments of triumph and even humour. However, they always end in despair and disaster. Romeo and Juliet take their own lives, Fortinbras arrives from Denmark to find everyone dead, Bradford City get relegated. In the Bible, the book of Judges is tragedy. There are heroes along the way but the ending is bleak because there is no king.
By contrast, a comedy is not about telling jokes, if it is anything to do with laughter, then it is the laughter that comes with joy. The story has a happy ending, life is better at the end than the beginning, often this is marked by a celebration, a feast, a wedding. Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Taming of the Shrew are comedies. In the Bible, the book of Ruth starts with tragic famine, exile, disease and death. Naomi’s life becomes bitter as she is widowed and her sons die too. However, it ends in the joy of a wedding. There is the promise of a King as Ruth and Boaz become ancestors of David and Jesus.
Authors like Glenn Scrivener (Divine Comedy Human Tragedy) and Peter Leighthart (Deep Comedy) have observed that the big story of the Bible is “Comedy.” At the centre of the story is the death and resurrection of Jesus. The story moves from death to life. Because of that, the movement of Scripture is to a better, happy ending. The story starts well with a good creation and a paradise garden. However things turn sour, humans sin, death comes, the world is fallen. Because Jesus has died and risen, we now look forward to the happiest ending of all, Christ will return, Creation will be made new. There will not only be a new garden paradise but a paradise garden city. God said that it was not good for the man to be alone and so the story starts with marriage between a man and a woman. The story ends with God’s people becoming the bride of Christ. This is why Christians have hope.
If the big story is “comedy shaped” with the story arc being one of life from death, hope from despair, reconciliation from enmity, then we can also expect lots of mini “death and resurrection” stories in between. That is our testimony. There are times of grief followed by times of joy and hope. “There may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning.” We live between Christ’s first coming and his second coming. This is the now and not yet time, the time in between. Those “mini-deaths and resurrections” are there to help our hope.
Theology for Coronavirus.
In my last post, I said that we need a theology, a big story to underpin our thoughts, feelings, words and actions as we respond to coronavirus. This is how we start to answer the question about getting through this, of not just surviving but being holy.
The Christian Gospel is about hope. Grace is not just something in the past. We do look back to past grace, Christ’s death on the cross. We do enjoy the good gifts the Holy Spirit gives to us now as he enables us to live for him. However, we also have future grace to look forward to. We know there is a happy ending. Christ will return.
This enables us to live now. If we are experiencing a form of “mini-death”, if winter is here, then we know it will be followed by summer. We look forward to a “mini-resurrection.” Trials and suffering are temporary. This helps us to make sense of church as it is now. Of course we are enjoying the extra link ups online. There’s something special about doing morning and evening prayer together with people tuning in not just from Bearwood, or even around the country but around the world. I am so encouraged to hear about people phoning round, showing care and kindness. We may not have physical community but there are good things happening. However, we won’t be able to sustain them without hope. Life will continue in the new format and we will discover a new normal. We will lose energy and enthusiasm.
Furthermore, even as we do these things and find joy in them, it is still hard going isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I for one can’t wait to get out and about again. I want to get in the car and head up to Bradford so we can see our parents and down to Kent to see Sarah’s. I am looking forward to hugs and handshakes. I miss shared meals, and home group Bible studies. I long for the day when we will gather again as church family and share communion together.
That’s right, we are both meant to enjoy the good things now and long with desperate hunger for the better things to come. This hunger for the day ahead when the virus abates and we discover freedom coming out of the death of isolation does something vital. It teaches us to hunger more and more for the day when Christ returns. Right now we are observing the fast, we are learning to live without things that are important to us. Yet we hunger for the feast. At this moment, winter has come but there will be spring, there will be new life and then #SummerIsComing.
Then one day, the winter will end and it will be permanent joyful summer for ever and the feasting and rejoicing will begin.