I have been thinking a lot about the phrase ‘stay safe’ and why it is such an important and meaningful phrase right now.
If I were to sneeze you would say “bless you”. We would do that instinctively, we have been saying “bless you” for hundreds of years. It goes back to another pandemic: the Bubonic Plague swept throw Europe, and one of the first symptoms was sneezing. And when a person sneezed there was a great fear that it would lead to death. Not only of the person that sneezed, but also for the people who had been in the vicinity or firing line of the sneeze. And so they would say “bless you.” They were saying “God will you look after this person will you take care of them”. To bring a blessing on a person is to invoke or invite and ask for the kingdom of God, the presence of God, to be on that person with healing and life. And so, they would say “bless you” as a prayer. “Lord look after this person, protect them, be close to them.”
You may be aware that the phrase ‘goodbye’ has a similar origin. It’s an abbreviation of a phrase, a bit like ‘LOL’ is an abbreviation. Goodbye is an abbreviation of the phrase ‘God Be with You’ or technically ‘God be with Ye’ – goodbye.
It seems to me that there seems to be a human natural desire to bring people into God’s care when we say goodbye. “God be with you and bless you”. The human being is often powerless and uncertain and has a need and a desire for God. It is like they say, “there are no atheists in a fox hole or a falling lift”. In other words, in moments of great danger people pray. “Stay safe” seems to be a kind of a wish and maybe a prayer for the agnostic or even the atheist. There is a desire to bring safety to the person. If I am going on a journey you may say “take care”, you may say “drive safely”. You are asking me to do something that I have control over. But when you ask me to “stay safe” in this current climate, that is beyond my control, I am not able to protect myself fully. So, “stay safe” isn’t an instruction it’s a wish. It is asking something or someone to keep us safe. “Stay safe” is a kind of a prayer.
I want to invite us to consider two things: The first is that we might be more confident in saying “bless you” to someone. At the end of this I want to use the blessing that I often use at funerals and weddings which I love to be able to say over someone that is so rich and so powerful, it is a great thing to be able to bless someone, and to be able to invoke, and bring God’s Kingdom and presence, and to pray for it in their life, and for them to receive the blessing of feeling God. And so, I want to encourage you to do that, to think of ways of adapting ‘stay safe,’ to ‘may God keep you safe’, or just ‘bless you’, or ‘may God bless you’.
But the second thing I want to encourage and suggest is to recognise that for many of the people who are saying “stay safe” it is reflecting an anxiety and a care for us, but an uncertainty in their powerlessness. It’s kind of a prayer but it is not fully formed as a prayer. But maybe we can use it to prompt us pray quietly for those who say it, because we recognise that there is a yearning and a desire that we be well, and a hope that somehow some force or some power or some being would keep us well. And that yearning for a force or a power to keep us safe is just a flicker that can turn in to faith in Jesus, so maybe we just pray for those that use that phrase a lot.
So a blessing to finish:
“May you know the hope and peace of God that passes all understanding, and the blessing of God Almighty- Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you now and forevermore. Amen”.