The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev’d Andrew Forster, admitted to feeling overwhelmed sometimes by the Covid-19 health crisis but urged people to share their fears and anxieties with God and ask Him for strength and courage.
The Bishop was speaking during a Passiontide service of worship which, owing to governmental restrictions on movement and assembly, was broadcast live and online from his home. Bishop Andrew said none of those watching or listening could have conceived of the days they were now living through. A couple of weeks had changed so much.
“I don’t know about you,” he said, “but sometimes I find it quite overwhelming because of the uncertainty that we’re living into. So it’s so important that day and daily we reach out to God, asking for his strength, asking for his help and asking for the courage that he can give us to help us through these days.”
Bishop Forster said the restrictions introduced by the governments were important but difficult “because for most of us, and in general, we’re social people, we’re energised by our interactions with other people. And not being able to be with family and with friends and with those we love – not being able to be with them physically – It’s really hard and it’s really tough, and we know that it will get harder and it will get tougher. But yet we know that this is the right thing to do.”
The Bishop said: “What we’re doing now, through this time of isolation, of being at home, is actually loving our neighbour, it’s wanting the absolute best for them, in fact it’s wanting life for them. So, staying at home, as we’re being told, is saving lives and it’s absolutely loving our neighbour.”
Rt Rev’d Forster said he had been reading some of the Psalms of Lament this week. Psalm 88, he suggested, could almost be called an isolation psalm or a confinement psalm. “Some of the verses say this: ‘You’ve taken from me my closest friends.’ ‘I’m confined and cannot escape.’ ‘You’ve taken my companions and loved ones from me.’ They’re words that express real raw emotion from the bottom of our hearts. And they’re words that express a raw honesty with God. And, if they tell us anything, they tell us that we can be honest with God; that we can pour out our frustrations and our hurts and our fears and our anxieties to God and that God listens and that God’s shoulders are big enough to take it as well.”
The Bishop said we were staring at our own mortality through the Covid-19 crisis but that Jesus’s example was the example of hope beyond the grave. Today’s Gospel text was John 11: 1-45, in which Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. “It tells us of a Jesus who comes to be with us, of a Jesus who knows our grief and our sorrow, and of a Jesus who gives us resurrection hope and His life in our lives now.”
Bishop Forster ended the service by praying “for those people who we rightly identify as heroes in the midst of all this, those who are working in our hospitals and in healthcare at the moment, the people who are heading towards this illness whenever we are trying to get away from it. I think they deserve not only our deepest gratitude but also our fervent prayers.” He prayed, too, for policymakers, for scientists who were seeking a vaccine, and for all those who were working to keep supply lines open.”