Harmony in Isolation
One of the most amazing videos I’ve seen in the past few days, since social-distancing and self-isolation rules have come in, is of the counter-tenor Andrew Leslie Cooper singing the 8-part madrigal: “Lay a garland on her hearse” by Robert de Pearsall. It’s a most beautiful and poignant piece of music set for two sopranos, two altos, two tenors and two basses.
Andrew, whose incredible vocal range stretches from first soprano to second bass, has made a video of himself singing every part from a different position on a semi-circle where each of the singers would stand. The result is an octet of voices singing in glorious harmony even though it’s the same man singing each part!
You can see the video here:
For me, this is a wonderful metaphor of how one can find harmony in isolation. In spite of the loss that so many of us are feeling, there are nevertheless ways of connecting with other people. I’ve also experienced my first “Zoom” team meeting! On my computer screen, laid out in “gallery mode”, were five members of St Edburg’s and myself each in our own homes but having a meeting in which we could each hear and see everybody (including ourselves)! St Edburg’s has also set up a Youtube facility linked to Facebook and many of us were able to watch Verena presiding at the Eucharist on Sunday 22nd March, when none of us was able to go to church.
Even if one doesn’t have the technology to access these things, there are still ways of being connected while we stay at home. I’ve rediscovered the telephone and had some wonderful conversations with friends I can no longer see face to face.
I return to Andrew’s inspiring video whenever I need to remind myself that God will give us ways through this time of isolation. While many of us are confined to our own homes each of us is invited to remember that though God’s Spirit we are all connected with each other.
This week’s Gospel reading is the story if the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). If you would like to watch a short Lego video about Lazarus, it can be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuhClsKlAtU
Jesus was very good friends with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, who were brother and sisters. He probably spent a lot of time at their house in Bethany, just 2 miles from Jerusalem. We don’t know where Jesus was when he got the message that Lazarus was ill, but we gather it was a place of safety. It was very dangerous for Jesus to travel anywhere near Jerusalem at that time; earlier in John’s Gospel chapter 10 we hear how the authorities tried to arrest him, but he escaped back over the Jordan river.
Why did Jesus wait 2 more days to go to Bethany when he got the message Lazarus was so ill? In the text, Jesus says that “this illness will not lead to death” because “God will be glorified through it”. This answer must have been a bit confusing to the disciples. Mary and Martha must also have been disappointed that Jesus didn’t come and see them straight away. They believed Jesus was the Messiah, and that he could cure the sick. “If you had been here, Lazarus would not have died” they both said.
These last few weeks have been, for all of us around the world, a time of worrying uncertainty. Many of us have been sitting at home and realising that if we stop doing our job for a few months, it doesn’t matter. Suddenly, the children are trying to learn at home without their friends and teachers. Desperately trying to fill the time, people are constantly reading the news and worrying about their families and friends. On the other hand, there are the people who really keep the world going by serving others – doctors and nurses, teachers, people who work in our shops and deliver to our homes – may feel appreciated perhaps for the first time. It was very moving to hear so many people clapping to thank the key workers on Thursday evening. They are putting themselves at risk every day to help others. It really does feel as though we are ‘walking through the valley of the shadow of death’ from Psalm 23. It may feel as though God is very far away right now. What God is saying to us through this bible passage is “fear no evil, for I am with you”.
This picture shows a valley in the Judean desert – where Jesus wandered for 40 days and nights before heading to Jerusalem. The valley shown would have been a place of death, where predators roamed, and thieves hid. Yet perched on the edge of the valley is St. George’s monastery. A place of prayer for 1600 years, and a place of hospitality for travellers.
Jesus eventually risks being arrested by travelling to Bethany. When he gets there, Lazarus has already been dead for 4 days; the house is filled with friends and relatives grieving and crying. Mary and Martha think that Jesus has turned up too late. What does Jesus do? He doesn’t get straight on to the business of bringing Lazarus back from the dead. He sees the broken-hearted relatives, his friends who are in a bleak place where they have lost their brother and probably their security and their home. He is “deeply moved”. He cries with them.
When we feel like our life is too hopeless, too sad, and too full of the fear of death. When we feel helpless to do anything because we have to stay in our houses, Jesus cries with us. Jesus feels our sorrow and our worry. He’s right there beside us, right now. Through this difficult and anxious time, God chooses to bring us hope, even after we have given up. Like a flower on the doorstep. The discovery of video chat. The realisation that sometimes listening and sympathising with someone’s worries is enough. The chance to volunteer to help the doctors and nurses, or neighbours who can’t go out to get any shopping. The chance to spend more time with our families and our pets. It’s certainly dragged the Church of England kicking and screaming into the 21st Century! Many people have realised they can work from home, levels of traffic pollution have plummeted.
I was reminded on social media of a quote from The Lord of the Rings.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
This time is truly the time for us to realise who our heroes are. That the greatest amongst us are those who serve others. That sometimes the best we can do for others is to stay where we are; not busy ourselves with tasks but listen, pray and try to notice the good things. God is with us while we wait, he weeps when we weep, he gently brings us to place of hope from despair.
Read the story again in John 11:1-45. Maybe you could discuss with someone the following questions:
How can we trust God in the context of a global pandemic?
How can we show solidarity to those who are suffering because of Covid-19?
Who is Jesus to those who are forced to self-isolate?
Here is a link to a song we often sing based on Psalm 23: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eIQQayhpak
Emma Carter - 29th March