- Revd Dr Ben Sargent
Keeping your eyes on the prize.
Some encouragement on resilience from 1 Peter.
When my alarm went off at 11.30pm that Saturday night, I couldn't believe this was happening. With the rain lashing against the bedroom window, I put on my trainers, drank a swig of tea, choked down a cereal bar, trudged out of the door and headed to Rob's house. Rob is definitely the fittest and most competitive person in our Church. When Rob got his place in the virtual London Marathon this year, he decided it would be fun to try and be one of the first people to finish it. That meant setting off at midnight. Somehow, he talked me into joining him! What followed was just less than four hours of unrelenting misery. The rain didn't stop as we plodded down the country lanes towards Bournemouth. There, we began our lonely slog along the promenade to Poole, where we turned around and headed home. Actually, home was all I thought about from the moment we arrived by the sea. I thought of the warmth, the dry, the blankets, the hot drinks, the lovely people sleeping soundly. Rob's marathon glory was far from my mind: I was running to get home! The thought of home kept me going: not moments of sporting elation (there weren't any); not the thought of Rob's marathon glory; not even the thought of Rob's sponsorship money for a local charity. For many of us, living faithfully as disciples of Christ during COVID-19, particularly when we want to seize the Gospel opportunities the pandemic opens up and particularly when we have a specific responsibility to lead and nurture a local Church, has been an exhausting and fairly hopeless ordeal. There's no end in sight and there are so many uncertainties: perhaps even, for those of us who are paid Church workers, the uncertainty of whether we will still be employed by the time 'normality' returns. 1 Peter was written for Christians in a situation similar to our own. The Christians to whom the apostle wrote knew very well that they were strangers in an uncertain world (1.1 and 2.11). They knew well what it feels like to be under serious pressure - in their case, pressure from a society which maligned them as evildoers (2.12; 3.13-17 and 4.12-19). Peter pastors his friends, not by promising that things will get easier, but by holding out the hope of eternal glory for those who endure. This is the inheritance that will never perish spoil or fade, stored up in heaven: the very hope of home, guaranteed for us through the death-destroying resurrection of the Lord Jesus (1.3-5). This is the unfading crown of glory promised to those who lead God's people with integrity and faithfulness (5.4). This is the day when those who have come to know Christ through us will give glory to God (2.12). There may not be as many moments of joy on the way as we would like, but the goal of our faith - the ultimate salvation of our souls (1.9) - should fill us with hope now and spur us on to persevere. But the encouragement Peter offers is not all about eternity. Peter wants his readers to know that through all of their suffering, they are taking part in the most glorious enterprise in the whole of human history: the Church. I'm one of those annoying people who has actually become a little fitter during lockdown. The downside of this is that running a marathon no longer seems like an impressive or glorious undertaking (I know - how smug is that?). If I saw my marathon with Rob as more exciting, perhaps the significance of doing it would have helped me endure some of the tedium of the endless trudge along the seafront. But the truth is, marathons are amazing. The history of the marathon is long and glamourous and the London Marathon itself is a remarkable event. Much more so, the local Church is the most exciting thing happening in the world today. In 1.10-12, Peter describes how the prophets of Israel's past wrote Scripture with the Church in mind. Even angels long to know the great truths which are now the substance of the Church's preaching. It is as though the whole of history and the created order has waited for this moment. Peter goes on to explain that local Churches are the embodiment of the God's plans for Israel, the holy nation, the royal priesthood, the people belonging to God, called out of darkness into marvellous light (2.9-10 and Ex 19.5-6). As Christians seeking to persevere in a COVID-19 world, we are doing the most important and splendid thing that could possibly be done by us, or by anyone else. Let's keep doing it with our eyes on the prize!