An article in the Church Times took me back to a hymn I’d not sung for many a year with its wonderful opening line, ‘O Love that wilt not let me go’. This is the only sort of love which really counts; it’s the one we recognise in our own loved ones, in parents who loved us into life, in friends who mean the world to us – and, of course, in the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
It is one year ago that we first went into lockdown. Perhaps you can recall what you were doing then when life was more ‘normal’. I can remember going for drinks with neighbours the weekend before it all happened, when Covid seemed something quite distant. Now there are few of us who have not been affected personally one way or another. We know people with Covid, we know people who have died from Covid, and all of us are living with the consequences of Covid.
Lent takes us back to Jesus’ forty days and nights in the desert. It seems to me that we are living our own wilderness experience in a way we could never have imagined. For Jesus this was a time of struggle: as the 23rd Psalm puts it, he walked through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet he was held in a love which would not let him go, and emerged from it to a ministry which was to turn the world upside down in faith, hope and love.
Whatever else is lacking during this time of wilderness, one thing not absent is loving kindness. We’ve seen it in NHS workers, teachers, neighbours and many others. In practical down-to-earth ways we have seen and experienced living examples of ‘love that wilt not let me go’.
George Matheson, who wrote the hymn, had his own wilderness experience. ‘Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering’, he says, and then he wrote these beautiful lines:
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.
Tracing the rainbow through the rain. Isn’t this God’s tenacious love for us, stronger than we can imagine, mirrored by our human experiences of being loved? We’ve surely had plenty of rain lately, but, you know, I’ve seen the odd rainbow too – hold on to such precious glimpses of glory in times as these.
Archdeacon of Worcester