In Brazil the lock down is called ‘quarentena’ – from the same Latin route as our word ‘quarantine’. It comes from the latin for 40 – if you know Spanish or Portuguese you’ll know that 40 in those languages is ‘quarenta’.
The Youngs sent me a list the other day of all the times 40 comes up in the Bible.
As I looked at the list it made me think – each time it comes up – people are being prepared for a new way of living.
- The flood lasted 40 days – and Noah and his family then had to get used to living in a very altered world.
- Moses fled from Egypt for 40 years – during which time, unbeknown to him, God was preparing him to oppose the injustice of Egypt by freeing the Israelites from slavery and also preparing him for life in the desert – which the Midianites (who he lived those 40 years of exile with) were practiced at.
- Moses later spent 40 days on Mt Sinai to receive the 10 commandments – as God prepared him to lead the people into this new way of living according to his rules.
- The Israelites wandered in the dessert for 40 years – as they learnt how to become free people and prepared for a new way of life in the promised land.
- Jesus fasted for 40 days – as he prepared for his three years of ministry before his death and resurrection.
- He then came back to the disciples and his other followers over a period of 40 days as they were prepared to receive the Holy Spirit and become the people who would spread the Good News which brought with it new ways of seeing their world and a new way of living.
And now here we are – in our ‘quarentena’ – our world is visibly changing, we’re being told daily that it will be a long time till we return to the old normal way of living, or that we never will.
I’m not sure we really do want to go back to the old normal. This time has helped the world to see all that we were slaves to beforehand, that was damaging, but that the ‘quarentena’ has freed us from.
But, as with the Israelites – it takes preparation to be able to live as free people – and often the ex-slaves want to go back to the old ways of doing things because they become bored, disillusioned, and take the new gifts of their freedom for granted or forget what slavery was like in the first place.
And on top of the wavering of the people themselves you have the Pharoahs (the powers that be) that will do anything within their power to go back to the old normal, that benefits them at the expense of billions of others…
In one of my other devotionals I spoke about Sabbath – and the opportunity to rethink how we will do life coming out of lock down – and I think busyness is a real false god in our society – that says – I need to be busy – regardless of the cost to those around me, or myself, or my relationship with God – because ultimately everything depends on me, I can’t trust God – not even for a day each week.
But there are many other areas where our society has been shown up by this time – and with society Christians – we have been shown up for living by the world’s standards rather than by the standards God gives us in the Bible – for our own good, and for the building of his kingdom of justice.
- Think of all the low paid jobs, with no sick pay or other benefits – who we have now come to see as essential to our communities.
- Think of how vulnerable we have allowed our elderly to become – which has now been shown up in the way the crisis has played out in care homes.
- Think of how our air quality in Sutton has gone from levels above the legal EU limits of pollution, to well below those levels within the time we have been in lockdown – and all the respiratory conditions affected by this.
- Think of all the people who now speak to their neighbours each Thursday evening (if not more) and who help or have received help from neighbours – who previously had very little or no contact with them.
- Think of all those people now taking the time to exercise regularly, and get fresh air each day rather than driving manically from home to school, to jobs, to activities, to meetings and back home to drop into bed.
- Think of all those now exploring faith because they have had the time to allow those questions and thoughts to rise up, and the time to then explore.
These things are all striking, and many more – what else might you add?
But if we don’t use this ‘quarentena’ to prepare, to start putting new habits in place, to intentionally think about what changes we will make to develop lasting new ways of living, then we will lose all this – and COVID-19 will just be remembered as a time of loss and illness – (and it will be remembered for this) – but could it also be remembered as a time when we prepared for a new way of living?
When we were freed from oppressive habits.
And when we as Christians took the opportunity to lead the way in showing people how we have chosen to live in a new and alternative way – that we’ve learnt from the values we see God teaching us throughout the Bible.
So, let’s be creative, and 1) reflect on the Bible and the values we learn from there, 2) reflect on the old normal and 3) what lock-down has shown up about that old way of life and 4) come up with alternative habits and ways of life we can start putting in place now as we prepare for a new way of life.