You’ve been stuck for hours on some crowded plane but, at long last, you reach your destination. As motion stops, everybody around you gets to their feet, grabs their luggage and pushes out into the aisle. You pick up your things and, as politely as possible, push your way into the queue as it heads to the exit. You are suddenly struck by the uncomfortable feeling that, in your haste, you may have left something behind. You look back to your seat only to realise that you are now separated from it by at least six rugby players who are muttering ‘Move on!’ It’s too late to go against the flow . . .
I am reminded of this experience as – very cautiously – it begins to look as if we may be emerging from the long journey that has been the COVID lockdown. There is a temptation to mentally ‘rush for the exit’; to put, without any thought, the whole two months or so finally and completely behind us.
Haste can be a dangerous thing and let me suggest four things that we shouldn’t forget.
First, we shouldn’t forget unfinished matters. During this period of confinement or lockdown, from necessity, we all did some things briefly or badly. Some of them may have been trivial: a temporary fix of the doorbell which fell off or the light in the loo which wasn’t working. Some things, however, may have been serious and must not be overlooked. So, there may be flowers to put on the grave of someone whose funeral you could not attend. There may be a grieving friend you need to sit with and comfort. There may even be apologies that you need to make for some ill-tempered email or telephone call made in the stress of the crisis. And however relieved we may be for ending confinement and being able to ‘move on’, we all need to remember that for some people the loss and pain they felt may make ‘moving on’ difficult.
Second, we shouldn’t forget unfulfilled promises. It is a common characteristic of human beings that under difficult circumstances we make promises, whether to ourselves, to others or to God. In the days of confinement, I imagine many people reviewed their life and made a promise to do something ‘when this is all over’. Unfortunately, an equally common human characteristic is that, when the restriction is removed, such promises get forgotten. So as we prepare to leave lockdown, we need to remember any promises we made and consider them carefully. Were they serious and sensible? If so, why not keep them? And if they were promises made before God, then I would suggest it’s a very good reason to keep them.
Third, we shouldn’t forget unacknowledged blessings. Yes, it’s been a bad few months but for many people there were plus points. Bonds of fellowship grew up with neighbours, digital skills were gained, books were read and parents had time to talk to children. And, of course, if you have reached this far, it looks as though you have survived. You may even have had a deeper sense of God’s presence or learnt more about him or dug deeper into the Bible. Why not take some moments to look back and give God thanks for the blessings you have received?
In fact the Bible makes a great deal of looking back in acknowledgement. In the Old Testament there are many encouragements to God’s people to remember that they were delivered from being enslaved in Egypt. For example, Deuteronomy 6:12 says, ‘Be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt’ (nlt). The rituals of Passover (Exodus 12:14) in the Old Testament was a yearly reminder of that great deliverance. In the New Testament, the Lord’s Supper or communion (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24–26) is a reminder of the still greater deliverance achieved by Jesus on the cross. Such reminders are not simply meant to provoke nostalgia; they are to encourage us that, precisely because God has been faithful to his people in the past, they can trust him for the future.
Fourth, we shouldn’t forget unexpected lessons. One of the extraordinary things about lockdown was how, without warning, we all found ourselves in this strange situation. But I think all those who managed to stay close to God through this time learnt something, whether about themselves, their family or God himself. In this enforced separation from friends and colleagues, many people found a time to spend with God that they hadn’t had before. Perhaps, too, new values and new priorities were acquired. In the inevitable busyness of the post-COVID world let’s not forget what we learnt in our enforced isolation.
It’s tempting to move on. Yet in moving forward into the future, it’s a wise policy to keep an eye on the past. God’s people are always tempted to be spiritually absent-minded. Yet as the wise saying goes, those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it. In the book of Judges we read a record of how God’s people slid into disastrous idolatry and find a stark comment from the writer: ‘They forgot the Lord their God, who had rescued them from all their enemies surrounding them’ (Judges 8:34 nlt).
Amid those urgent calls to ‘Move on!’ let’s not be too hasty. Let’s pause for a moment before we join the crowd pushing for the exit.
Revd Canon J.John