Absence makes the heart grow fonder

We are now entering another week of lockdown. We are under strict instruction not to leave our homes unless we are key workers except for daily exercise, essential shopping and medical needs.  Hitting the Easter holidays will make that sense of what we are missing out on all the more painful for many of us.

For me, Easter usually means opportunities to visit family, day trips out, a moving Good Friday breakfast and communion, then the thrill of gathering in a packed and decorated building for Easter Sunday. This year, there will be none of that.  We will try and do things with a bit of help from Facebook and Zoom but it won’t be the same.  What are you missing right now?

One thing we have been learning as we have had to go without things that have been so important to us is how we can easily make idols of them. We are learning to hold less tightly to the things we were tempted to depend on and instead cling to Christ more tightly.

That’s one vital part of the picture, however I want to suggest a word of caution. In the early days of the church, there were people going around arguing that the important thing was our spiritual knowledge of the divine. Physical matter was at best unimportant and at worst evil, a tragic accident.  They were known as Gnostics. Their dislike of the physical world became so extreme that they also believed that Jesus could not have possibly come as an actual human being, why would a spirit take on one of the very bodies you and I are trying desperately to escape?

So, the caution is this.  Don’t forget that God made this world and declared it good. Don’t forget that all of the good things you have enjoyed, your work, food, friendship and fellowship are good gifts from him.  We have just finished a study of the book of Ecclesiastes. We’ve discovered that our view of the book can be distorted by the translation of one single word, the Hebrew “Hebel” as vanity of meaninglessness.  The word literally means “vapour” or “breath”. In other words, life is like the air, impossible to pin down. It is frail, fragile and fleeting, puzzling and sometimes frustrating but it is not meaningless. 

Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes has a positive view of life in God’s World. We are to enjoy it. WE can delight in food and drink. We are to enjoy the days of our youth. We are to remember that there is a time for everything. Because life is like vapour, because it is fleeting, we should not invest our search for purpose and meaning in those things, rather that comes from God’s eternal verdict and so we are to remember him, However, we are not to think of this life now as futile and meaningless. Rather, it is exactly as we turn to Christ that we discover again meaning and purpose in this life.

Scientific research becomes meaningful in a world made and ordered by a wise God.  Music, art and theatre have value when we discover that the creator God has beauty and majesty. There is a purpose to your work and friendships become precious again.

Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen:
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,
Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.[1]

Absence from these good things is like a fast. It teaches us not to depend on them, not to put them at the centre of our lives, not to cling onto them. It also teaches us to appreciate them and to look forward to enjoying them fully again in the near future.

[1] George Wade Robinson (1838 – 1877), Loved with Everlasting Love.

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