As I write this it feels that the weather has finally turned towards spring and summer. All around me is the noise of my family at work to prepare the garden for summer. After the relentless rain of this winter there is the hope of spring, the daffodils are in bloom. The improving weather is a real joy amongst the worry and fear surrounding the Coronavirus outbreak. Who knows what we’ll be facing by the time you read this with the ongoing Coronavirus epidemic? I better not speculate because so much could happen in just a few days.
The spectre of Coronavirus is a test of us as individuals and as communities. Will we continue to show our community spirit as a village as the news gradually worsens? The drive for self-preservation kicks in at times like this, doesn’t it? The shelves are empty of hand sanitiser and other health supplies - my wife visited Boots in Witney late one morning to discover that although they had a delivery that very morning, they had already sold out again of hand sanitiser before lunchtime. The problem is that this can very quickly be a case of survival of the fittest. Those who can get there - the healthy and well resourced - get the limited supplies and the vulnerable who really need them miss out.
This month at Café Church to celebrate Mothering Sunday (although it was the week after!) we looked at the story of Ruth from the Bible. It is a story of a young girl who clings on to her mother-in-law in the most dire situation. Both Ruth and Naomi, her mother-in-law, had been recently widowed. Their relationship we might not think would continue, especially when Naomi says that she is returning to her homeland. But Ruth will not abandon the elderly Naomi, she is absolutely loyal to her - following her to a foreign land and making her home there with Naomi’s people. It is a challenge to us to likewise remain loyal to those around us and continue to show them love even at difficult times. How can we look out for the needy around us and not just look after ourselves? How can this time spur us to build our community up and not let panic buying or even travel bans divide us?
The story of Ruth and Naomi is one of tragedy and bitterness which through the loyalty of Ruth and the generosity of Naomi's relative, Boaz, becomes one of blessing and happiness. A new family is birthed. But the most curious thing about Ruth's story is God's part in it. Never in the story of Ruth does the narrator say God did anything, but at the same time God is there in the background behind the scenes, never far from the action. He is at work through the loyalty, generosity and goodness of the characters of the story. It is through ordinary people living good lives of loyalty and generosity that God is at work to bring a great reversal, turning a deep personal tragedy into a story of great hope and healing. Hope and healing which starts with Naomi and Ruth, but then blossoms, first to a nation through Ruth's grandson, King David the greatest King of Israel, and then to the whole world through Ruth's greatest descendant - Jesus Christ - who will, through his own tragic story, bring hope and healing to billions around the world today.
We might not quite have that impact, but Ruth's example encourages us, no matter how bad the tragedy around us, to continue to show loyalty, generosity and love to those around us.