When I was asked to write the Archbishop’s Lent book for 2020, little did I or any of us realise what a tumultuous Lent it was going to be or how particularly relevant the themes of the book would be – my goodness, there is even a section in there on pangolins and pangolin trafficking, now thought likely to be one of the things that allowed Covid-19 to jump species onto people. Justin Welby’s Foreword is uncannily prescient too and speaks right into the present situation – particularly the final paragraph (you’ll have to read it for yourself, it’s too long to quote here!).
Connection has been one of the key themes from the last few weeks. We recognise that we are connected to each other; that there is indeed something called society, and that we all need to work together to save lives. And we recognise that we are connected with the wider natural world; that terrible things happen when we don’t look after it and other creatures, but also that there is beauty out there in our gardens and parks and skies to notice again and appreciate. Connection is what Saying Yes to Life explores as we go through the creation story of Genesis 1 and consider the amazing world God has created and our role in it as people made in his image: created to look after our neighbours and the rest of creation.
The initial response to the book was hugely encouraging as the Church of England decided to give over its whole Lent focus (called #LiveLent) to the themes of the book around creation care and I began to hear of churches from all sorts of denominations and networks all over the UK (and around the world) deciding to use the book together over Lent. It became an Amazon bestseller and I’m led to believe it’s the best selling Lent book ever. It felt as if what I and others have been working towards for so many years was finally bearing fruit.
So can I be honest and tell you how gutting these last few weeks have been for me as, totally understandably, the focus suddenly shifted? It felt like all the momentum that had been building and the potential that was emerging was brought to a sudden halt. I’ve needed to grieve – as we all have, for the hopes and dreams and people that we have lost and will lose through this time.
Will we be able to regain that momentum at some point? The good news is that so many of us (at least in more economically developed contexts) have been rediscovering the absolute joy of hearing birdsong, seeing bumblebees and clear skies, breathing unpolluted air, and realising just how nurturing and good for our wellbeing it is to spend time outdoors.
Alongside this, I know many people have continued reading Saying Yes To Life and a good number of churches adapted their Lent study groups to read it together virtually. I’ve heard time and time again how much the book has sustained them through this time and the messages that I’ve been receiving have been helping sustain me through this time too.
All is not lost, and as we leave Lent and head into Easter I am reminded to hold onto hope in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. In his great passage on the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us to ‘stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain’ (v. 58). That’s what I’m choosing to stand on. My work isn’t finished yet!
So can I just say THANK YOU. Thank you to all of you who walked with me and helped me bring the Lent book into being, and thank you to all of you who have read it and engaged with it and been inspired to act because of it. May we be resurrection people in resurrection churches, and may we look at all that God has made and say yes to life. And Happy Easter!