‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’
I remember March 16th 2020 surprisingly clearly. It was the last day my partner went into work before Britain’s first Covid-19 lock down. My every sense was on high alert: noticing the drop in noise levels as fewer cars were on the road, being attentive to keep distance in a way that was not yet a new normal, feeling concern for those living homeless as the streets emptied, and seeing their shock too.
Even when we can feel change coming, when we are alert to the signs it has begun, we do not fully know the ways it will unfold. We become alert, vigilant, attentive as adrenaline changes our minds and bodies. We lay down memories more clearly. We weigh tiny pieces of data carefully, deciding whether to act or remain on guard.
Being constantly on alert is hard upon the body, eventually we must let ourselves drop our guard. When this cannot happen, when danger is constant, we risk becoming hyper vigilant – a symptom of traumatic experience and some medical conditions – in which we stay alert to threat, change, and stimulation and are unable to let our defences down.
To faithfully follow Jesus we have to balance his call to live alert to the signs of the times with the call to love abundantly. Staying alert to the leading of the Holy Spirit is not the same as hyper vigilance. Let watchfulness be tempered openness and vulnerability, the qualities needed to show love to our neighbours and enemies. Stay watchful, and let both your eyes and heart be drawn to what is unfolding around us. Stay safe, even so many months on, for protecting one another is an act of love. And for those blessed with sleep, enjoy that rest. We will be glad of your new energy again tomorrow.
Wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart, says the Psalmist. As we wait for dawn to break, As we wait for change to come, As we wait on Your Word to us, Renew us with rest, with hope, with reassurance, So that our hearts can love deeply, As You teach us to love. Amen
The Rev’d Dr ‘frin Lewis-Smith is a healthcare chaplain in Salford and member of The Church at the Centre, Tonge Moor