In May the Government changed its messaging on Coronavirus from ‘Stay at home’ to ‘Stay alert’. This new slogan has received mixed reviews. Some think it is a bracing call to common sense and personal responsibility; others that it is just vague and confusing. Needless to say, Twitter had strong views on the matter. I make no judgement here on all that, but I do want to commend the practice of being alert. Throughout the Scriptures, God’s people are called to stay alert – not in an exhausting and fearful state of high anxiety but in a posture of prayerful attentiveness to God.
Jesus warns his disciples to be “be alert at all times” to the coming judgement of God. St Paul writes to the Corinthian church and says, “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” Christians are not only to be alert to potential threats (like a virus) but also to the challenge of faithfully living out the Gospel in the world.
So how might we need to be alert in these times of pandemic?
As those who love God with our heart, soul, strength and mind, we must be, above all, alert to what God is saying to us and to the Church and to the world.
Many of us have found ourselves re-evaluating our lives in recent days. Some of us have had our faith in God tested; others have found that we have had more time to reflect on matters of the Spirit. What has God been saying to you in, and through, the challenges of this present time? Perhaps, we will want to live differently as a result of this crisis because we have learnt afresh that our sure hope lies not in our possessions or our job or our health but in the God who is with us even to the end of the age. Perhaps we have rediscovered, in new ways, the value of the God-given gifts of family, friends and community? Is this a “teachable moment” and am I alert to what God wants to say to me?
And as those who are commanded to love our neighbours as ourselves, are we alert to the ways in which this crisis is laying bare, in sharp ways, the profound inequalities that scar our society?
NHS staff, delivery drivers, care home workers, supermarket staff, cleaners - many of whom are paid a pittance and whose work is undervalued - are now revealed as essential life savers. To our shame, we are not surprised to learn that you are twice as likely to die of Covid19 if you live in an area of high deprivation. This pandemic is bad news for all of us but it is especially so if we are poor, sick, lonely or homeless. Perhaps we were not sufficiently alert to these things. Are we now? Much of what once passed for ‘normal’ is now exposed as cynical, cruel and unjust. Are we now alert to the possibility of creating a society that more fully anticipates the joy and hope of God’s coming Kingdom?
“Stay alert!” There is nothing vague or confusing about the Biblical command to have hearts that are receptive and attentive to the movement of the Spirit. God is passionately, intimately and fully engaged with the world in this time of change and challenge.
So here’s the message: Stay alert to God – love your neighbour – change the world.
The Ven Matthew Parker
Archdeacon of Stoke