One of the side-effects of the current lockdown because of the viral epidemic is that lots of us are feeling useless and helpless. Those of us not in what are considered essential occupations are having to hunker down and, although we might try our best to help our family, neighbours and friends, there is not a lot we think we can do. I feel particularly guilty, as a Christian priest, that I am not doing more to help my community, but then I can only help those whose needs I know about, and even then I know that I am limited as to what I can do. I have very few skills that are useful in the present crisis, and I am even having to learn to exercise my ministry remotely.
There are times in life when we all find ourselves in the position of not being able to help or be of use. On Maundy Thursday we remember the disciples accompanying Jesus into the garden on the Mount of Olives. They were not able to stay awake, let alone be of any earthly use during the agonising hours before his arrest. Then, of course, there was Peter on Jesus’ final day who was less than useless and helpful as he denied knowing Jesus out of fear for his own life. When Jesus was on the cross, the crowd scoffed at him by saying that though he thought he could save others, he couldn’t even save himself. The whole episode of Jesus’ passion and death shows us just how useless and helpless we can be in times of crisis. Jesus, some accounts infer, refused to help himself and his friends mostly ran away.
Christians feel they have to be helpful and useful, almost as if that is what God requires of them. But, does God really require us to feel guilty when what we can do seems so very little? Even Jesus couldn’t help everyone, and often he had to retreat from the crowds. No, God doesn’t require us to be useful or helpful, although it is nice if we can be, but to be faithful and to care. He calls us to do our bit to spread his love, mercy and forgiveness, and if we can do that for at least one person every day, then we have done our bit in God’s service. At the centre of our Christian story is the death of Jesus on the cross, and how useful or helpful was that?
Well, as it turns out, that seemingly useless and helpless moment was the moment when God’s love met our human wickedness and selfishness, and proclaimed that our uselessness and helplessness in the face of death are not the end. Love triumphs over all. So, whether you are a nurse or a patient, a care giver or someone being cared for, have an essential job or are locked down at home, you are not useless or helpless if you love. As we remember those in essential roles this evening, all those who serve our community, let’s remember that we too play our part by caring for them, praying for all who are suffering and dying, and that our love, thoughts and prayers are useful and helpful.