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When the future comes with a question mark

Although we are still in Eastertide, life after Easter Week usually seems like a return to normalcy. We have not yet reached Ordinary Time in the Church Year, but we have descended from the liturgical heights of Easter. Admittedly, this year’s celebration was very different from our usual Easter, but it still involved the Cathedral community in a joyous and moving celebration of the love that will not let us go.

Today, however, we face a new week with fearful uncertainty. It must be dawning on most of us by now that there will be no resumption of ordinary life: we must prepare instead for something quite different. How do we prepare for a future that is not only unfamiliar to us as individuals, but that is also unimaginable collectively?

Today’s readings point to preparation of this kind. In the Old Testament reading the young future prophet, Daniel, prepares for a life he cannot anticipate in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. In the Gospel of John, Jesus prepares to return to his Father. For both of them the future will be nothing like the past. Daniel prepares himself by rejecting the privileges associated with being a Hebrew slave with high potential. Rather than eat the rich fare ordered by the King for his court he insists on a vegan diet, all vegetables and water. Jesus prepares to leave his earthly followers, and to assume the glory of his new position at the right hand of God. He does not pray to be allowed to take his friends and followers with him. In fact, he plainly does not seek to remove them from their earthly life. Rather, he prays that they be protected from the Evil One, so that they can realize God’s kingdom on earth by living a transformed life in their old neighbourhoods. If we identify with Jesus’s followers who must carry on without the bodily presence of their Lord, and before the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can see that this implies a fearful challenge, as daunting as the Lion’s Den that awaits Daniel.

For me these readings call to mind the haunting Vaughan Williams hymn (Sussex), that turns the comforting promises of the 23rd Psalm into a bracing summons. “Father, hear the prayer we offer, Not for ease that prayer shall be, But for strength that we may ever, Live our lives courageously. . . . Be ourstrength in hours of weakness, In our wanderings be our guide; Through endeavor, failure, danger, Father, be Thou at our side.”



— Meg Graham

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