A Reflection on thanks
Friday, 24th April 2020
Each morning at round about the same time, I stand at the top of a staircase looking out of my temporary home onto the streets of Westminster. Nearly every morning there is just one person in view. A lone street-cleaner, in a mask, working near one of the government buildings across the road. I will spend my day in my home or office, he will have a beat to walk our days, and experiences, will be utterly different. Each day, I wonder about him, about whether he is anxious in the job he does, about a life so different from mine.
Then I go to work and my work has changed out of all recognition. My diary is littered with appointments I will not keep and events I will not attend. This week should have been dominated by the ANZAC celebration on Saturday. It was to be the first time I had attended that and paid tribute to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, remembering in particular, the shattering experience at Gallipoli. I was going to preach at the service and I had begun to learn a story I did not know as well as I should. I had heard of Gallipoli and I knew that the ANZACs had played a critical role in the conflict there. What I had not understood is the way that the ANZAC story is told in New Zealand and Australia. Those two nations do not just remember the conflict, suffering, loss of life, or the heroism, loyalty and resilience of their army. The story of the ANZACs is also the story of the way two very young nations made an instant and costly commitment to the Commonwealth. This was the moment that they looked beyond their shores and thought not of home, or nation, but of their place in the world. In Australia and New Zealand, the story they told about themselves shifted at that moment.
Digesting what that must have been like, I have another story in front of me, because it is the Easter season and we are reading Easter gospels in our worship. So, this week I have been reminded of the two disciples on the Emmaus Road. Two followers of Jesus who were leaving Jerusalem after Jesus’ death on the cross. Their hopes dashed they were walking out on a story that had now failed them. Meeting a man they fail to recognise, they tell him of their frustrated hope and he sets out to explain truths they had not understood, ‘beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures’ (Luke 24:27). Jesus takes the fact they thought they knew and stitches them together in a different way. He provides a better story. The two disciples say later that, ‘listening to all this, their hearts burned within them’. Even so, it was only later, at supper that what they had begun to understand became a vivid reality as they finally recognized the stranger who spoke so well, was Christ himself, risen from the dead.
All of us are constantly at work on the stories we tell about ourselves and our world. We are in the midst, now, of fashioning a very different story out of our experience as we come to terms with pandemic and its lasting consequences. There are big questions for us all in what we will choose to remember and what difference we will let all this make. There are questions about our honesty and our courage. Can we bear to describe some of the suffering hidden in care homes or in funerals with just a few people present? What will we say about the work of doctors and nurses, what they have seen, and what they have risked? What will we say about that Westminster street-cleaner?
We will need courage and honesty to tell the right story. That is work in progress. For now, I am just very glad and very grateful that there are people out there doing these extraordinary things. So to that man whom I may never meet and to all those like him, doing so much in so many different ways, ‘Thank you’.