Over a year on from Covid and the first lockdown, I reckon most of us are desperately wishing, if not begging for things to go back to ‘normal’. I know I am. And that’s a good thing, I can’t wait to be able to hug all of my friends, or sing (out of tune) at the top of my lungs in church or go to parties and concerts. These are all incredibly good things that God has given us. However, a sermon recently challenged me to make sure they are not the things I am putting my hope in.
It was during a sermon series in Numbers, and the challenge was to not be like the Israelites in the desert. Having been saved from slavery, the people leave Sinai where they have met with God. Numbers 10 finishes with a victory call from Moses, ‘Arise O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered… Return O Lord to the ten thousand thousands of Israel’. But in the very next verse ‘the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes.’
Now I want to be clear that there’s a difference between crying out to God and complaining. Countless times we have examples of the Psalmists crying out to God in suffering, even questioning God. But here the complaining of the Israelites is different. It is a deliberate misremembering of the past which causes dissatisfaction with the present. The Israelites declare ‘We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’
It seems funny doesn’t it that they remember it cost them nothing when actually it cost them their very freedom. The manna which they complained about was a miraculous provision and miracle from the Lord. But instead, they want slavery again. It sounds silly, doesn’t it? But I guess it’s also a warning for us.
The writer of Hebrews picks up on this in Hebrews 3, quoting Psalm 95’s description of the Israelites complaining: ‘Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness.’ I’d read these words before and saw them as more of a call to faith for unbelievers to turn to God, and I guess in a way it is. But the writer of Hebrews is actually writing to believers, suffering extreme persecution. We need to make sure that we ‘hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory,’ (Hebrews 3:6). Not the ending of restrictions. Enjoy it, celebrate it, but don’t fix your hope on it.
The Israelite’s misremembering also makes me question my remembering of pre-Covid. Did the ‘normal’ we’re all longing for work for everyone? It’s easy to pretend that everything was perfect before coronavirus came along, but we all still suffer in a fallen and broken world – Covid has just pushed those issues to the background for those unaffected. I believe coronavirus has offered us an opportunity. An opportunity to create a new normal – even in the little things. Thinking back to the community spirit of the first lockdown and the claps for the NHS, I hope that that sense of community and thankfulness will continue.
Churches shutting and singing forbidden has reminded me of how important fellowship and unity within the body of Christ is and how joyful it is to sing communal praises to our God! Lockdown has taught me to keep in touch with my friends and family better and to appreciate even the simplest of things as a hug. I hope this larger awareness and thankfulness is something that will continue as restrictions lift, that I will not simply be striving towards pre-Covid normal, but a new and better post-Covid normal.
We also have larger opportunities. I hope that as we rebuild society and the economy, we can rebuild them in a more environmentally sustainable manner or one in which mental health is better understood or overseas aid is better built into an economic framework. Now, more than ever, we have the agency to affect the future. Why not write to your MP about a larger area you would like to see change in?
As restrictions lift, we also need to remember to look after ourselves. Simon Barrington talks about a stage of reverse culture shock that will come after the ‘honeymoon’ period we all hope the 21 June will bring. He predicts that there will be a realisation that we have changed and so has everyone else. And this may very well be true. Barrington highlights four ways we can cope with this: ‘recognise’ that people will struggle with this to different degrees and to ‘allow’ for that. Also, to ‘expect’ and ‘facilitate’ readjustment.
The emotional rollercoaster of a global pandemic doesn’t necessarily end with restrictions. This is why it is so important to be placing our hope in something bigger and better. The end of lockdown does not mean the end of brokenness and sickness and sadness and loneliness. No. But that is to come, and in that should we put our hope. Revelation 21 paints a beautiful vivid and clear picture of our hope.
‘I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”’ – Revelation 21: 2-7.
Did you catch that? ‘There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ What an incredible hope and promise. My prayer is that that would be your ultimate hope as lockdown restrictions lift. Long for a post-Covid world but long even more for a post-sin world.