All Change

On the 7th February Irish citizens voted in a general election. Despite the impressive economic achievements of the sitting government; it was not re-elected. At the post-mortems on the election result the consensus among political commentators was that the politicians in power were out of touch “voters wanted change”. What was meant by change was not defined. The old adage be careful of what you wish for has once again proven its truth. Within three weeks of that election change came hurtling into our midst in the form of the Coroanavirus. The virus is colourless, odourless, it is so small that it is impossible to see, it knows no borders; its consequences are devastating; impossible to ignore.
          When the last government came to power in 2011 the newspapers were filled with articles headed “Negative equity”, “Ghost estates”, “Banking crisis” and of course the new word NAMA. These words have faded into distant memory and have now replaced by the new buzz words “social distancing”, “self isolation” “hand washing”. We hope the HSE will have enough ventilators and PPE. All is changed utterly and it is easy to become frightened.
          It is particularly easy to become frightened when we are alone in enforced solitude without a date for when our isolation will end. It is important that we get our priorities correct. Firstly we must for care for ourselves and ensure that we are not the cause of harming others. The next step is to reach out to other people by email, chatting over the hedge and phone calls. We must play our part in fighting this invisible enemy; but remember that this will also change.
          There have been many epidemics in the past. These caused deaths and brought fear among people. Covid 19 is not a punishment from God it is part of the natural cycle of evolution. We are fortunate that we understand the origin of the epidemic. We are fortunate that we have a system of health that will ensure that the majority of people who become ill will recover. We are not powerless; we do need to be proactive in caring for ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually.
          Many good things have emerged from this pandemic. One obvious one is the heart lifting response to the call for volunteers to work in our health system. There are countless volunteers looking after older vulnerable people. Then see how creative we have become in finding ways to do things differently.
          The first Sunday our church was closed we had a virtual service on line. The following Sunday our virtual service expanded to include hymns played by Josh and we followed with Virtual Coffee where we shared time and news with one another. Ten years ago none of this would have been possible. Another possible good outcome of this pandemic is that perhaps we may change our priorities in the future.
          Despite the good news we are living in challenging times. People are anxious about the health of loved ones and many people are faced with real financial worries. This worry is set against the backdrop of spring unfolding as we approach Easter Sunday, the focal point of the Christian Faith.
          Like the Christmas Festival, Easter is perfectly timed to tune in to what is happening in the world of nature. While I question the historic truth of the story I know the poetic truth contained in the story is perennial. The story of Easter has layers of meaning. The elements of the story and it’s timing are perfect. The story has parallels for us, as a nation as we journey through the next few weeks.
          For the purposes of this address I am presuming everyone knows the Easter story. Small details of the story hold important lessons.
          Sunday next is Palm Sunday; the day Jesus rode in triumph in to the city of Jerusalem. Mainstream Christians portray Jesus riding on a donkey; a donkey well this paints a picture of a meek Jesus humbly going towards his betrayal and death. However the more accurate translation is that he rode an unbroken colt. There is deep symbolism in this detail. Jesus was entering Jerusalem; the capital of Roman rule in Judea, he was presenting himself as a power figure. When people put their cloaks in front of him they were acknowledging that power.
          Christian scripture do not record an important part of the story. At the time Jesus entered Jerusalem Pilate- the representative of Roman rule - also processed into Jerusalem. Pilate’s arrival was timed for the feast of Passover. Pilate’s presence in Jerusalem was a reminder to Jews that Roman rule prevailed in the country. Jesus’ actions were a direct challenge to Rome. When Jesus said that his kingdom was at hand he was challenging Roman Rule.
          Then imagine how the apostles felt. For years they had travelled the roads of the Judean countryside with Jesus; now they accompanied him in a spectacular entry into the capital. I am sure that all of them envisaged a golden future. Jesus was welcomed by the citizens and they were Jesus’ faithful followers; their future seemed dazzling. The execution of Jesus brought destroyed their hopes.
          Jesus was crucified “on the place of the skull between two thieves.” The image of three crosses, one larger than the others, is one we are all very familiar with. There is a different, a more eastern way, to interpret this image. What goes on in the mind – our thoughts - our thoughts create our world and our mindset. Thoughts are simply thoughts they have no reality. The world of thoughts we create can literally steal our life. The two thieves, one on either side are the past and the future, neither of which exist. We all allow ourselves to be crucified by our thoughts and we all give free reign the thieves –the thief of living in the past and living in the thief of future.
          The apostles hid in terror when Jesus was arrested. But after some weeks something changed. We may call it the Holy Spirit but however we name it; something changed them; they found the courage to come out of hiding and to preach the message of Jesus. The apostles experienced resurrection of the spirit. The death of Jesus impelled the disciples to find their courage and they were changed. Without the challenge of the death of Jesus they would have achieved their potential.
          A few short weeks ago, before Covid 19, Ireland was beginning to experience signs of revival in the “Celtic Tiger”. We had full employment, Negative equity was resolved. There we just a few clouds on our horizon. There were the calls from “the greens” that the world was heading towards “Climate Chaos”. We didn’t want to hear that story; that would involve us making drastic changes to our lifestyle. Covid 19 has challenged us to change.
          Social isolation is making us aware of our need of nature for our wellbeing. We have rediscovered our connection with the world of nature and hopefully we will retain this connection and care for it more in the future.
          Homelessness was also an issue we felt the “Government” should fix. Today it is reported that empty Air B&Bs are available for the homeless. Perhaps we can do things differently.
          The virus is demonstrating how connected we are. This virus originated in a market, in a city in China, we had never heard of. We ignored its growth until it came into our midst. We know now that is only working together that we will beat this virus.
          Our politicians have left aside narrow political interests and shown leadership. Irish people have shown generosity and real concern for the common good. We have changed beyond recognition. We are more united as a people and we are showing that it is possible to do things differently.
          When Irish voters; voted for change we never expected to experience quite how much would change for us! When this virus has burned its course and it will. Will we have changed or will we revert to the old way of thinking only of our own welfare? I hope we won’t forget the good lessons this virus has brought with it.

Rev.Bridget Spain                                       Dublin 29th March 2020
Minister Dublin Unitarian Church