Do not fear, for I am with you

A Homily preached in the Chapel of St Peter on Monday 27 July 2020.

Isaiah 41:8-10, Psalm 23 and John 14: 25-31

It is so good to address you all here from the Chapel of St Peter. Mind you it is sad that I have to address you electronically and not in person. But such is life. None of us would have dreamed in the beginning of the year that we would now be in the second lockdown and that we therefore still couldn’t physically meet in large groups to worship, play sport, be creative and learn together in the way we normally would do. And who would have believed that we would be wearing masks everywhere we go, even in our sacred Chapel! 

It is indeed a strange time. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and fearful when we hear the daily COVID-19 news. We all wish it would be different. We wish the virus would disappear so we could go back to normal. But we have to get used to the fact that life at the moment is far from normal.

During this second lockdown, many people in our society are growing increasingly anxious and fearful – you might be one of them or you might not. People respond differently to different situations. Regardless how you feel, be assured that it is natural to be anxious, especially if you follow the daily news, for none us know what’s around the corner.

Human beings have always feared what we cannot control. We fear the unknown and we spend much time developing strategies to prevent potential disasters befalling us. And yet, no matter how hard we work at it, we cannot control everything.

In ancient times people knew this, but we who are living in the 21st century perhaps couldn’t quite understand it, at least not before the bushfires hit us earlier this summer and COVID-19 appeared among us. In biblical times though, floods, fires, plagues, diseases and war often caused havoc and people understood very deeply and personally that life is extremely fragile and that there are very good reasons to be fearful. 

One of the most common commands in the Bible uttered by God is: Do not be afraid.

Today, we just heard a passage from the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is speaking God’s word of comfort to the Israelites who had been removed from their homeland and forced to live in a foreign country. They had many reasons to fear the future: would they continue to be safe in their exile? Would they become slaves? Would they be subject to violence, foreign diseases and premature death? Would they never see their relatives back home again? In this situation, God speaks through Isaiah and says: Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

And as we hear in Psalm 23 in the glorious King James translation, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

It is natural to be afraid. The Israelites were afraid. The disciples of Jesus were afraid of Jesus dying as we hear in today’s gospel when Jesus addresses them by saying: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

When we are faced with uncertainty or illness or injury or a pandemic, we easily grow fearful and we may momentarily lose a sense of peace and hope. That’s why in time such as this one, we need the comforting words from the bible more than ever, telling us not to lose heart but instead arm ourselves with trust and faith that God is with us.

We need buildings such as this beautiful chapel which we pass many times every day on our way to and from class, reminding us that even though we may not see or feel it, the spirit of God is here with us.

We need church bells like ours ringing daily, bringing us away from our own thoughts and into the present moment, reminding us not to be afraid but instead to have courage and faith that all will be well.

Most importantly, perhaps, we need each other. For there is nothing more comforting than seeing or hearing from one’s friends and family. Laughing together; sharing our uncertainties, encouraging and supporting each other.

We live in a difficult time but nothing, as the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8, can separate us from the love of God.

We may grow fearful; we may become anxious but with the help of God, with the reading of the scriptures, with the aid of our prayers, and with the support we offer one another, we can find the strength of heart to face an uncertain future; knowing that, just as sure as dawn follows darkness, so eventually this time of trial will pass and we will one day again be able to live normally with each other.

Amen.

Rev’d Hans Christiansen
Senior Chaplain