April Jones, the little girl abducted and then seemingly murdered in mid-Wales. Dreadful. Heart-breaking.
Those events, crashing into the peaceful fabric of a small town in a quiet country, have resonated with many. For me it meant going back to last Christmas. We stayed just outside Machynlleth and must have gone into town on at least half a dozen occasions. So I’ve recognised many of the places, sensed something of the shock, understood – perhaps – why the key phrase in the last few days has been ‘loss of innocence’.
Why is it that such awful things seem to show people at their best? The garage-owner getting up in the middle of the night to re-open her fuel-pumps so that the searchers could carry on. The teams working twenty hours at a stretch. The volunteers driving down from Manchester. Everyone searching. Everyone wanting to show solidarity with this community.
And on Sunday, the great silent procession through the town to the church for a special gathering.
I don’t know what might have been said. It is hard to think of anything that could – usefully – be said at this point. But being together. That was a statement in itself.
And as the congregation came out at the end of the service, many of them simply hugged Kathleen Rogers, the vicar. Quite apart from being the single most important argument for women being in church leadership (empathy, tactility, warmth, approachability, etc, etc), that act was the best, the most appropriate, that anyone could – or needed to – perform.
Jesus said and did a lot of things. Many of them are not immediately understandable. Others seem to tie people up in complicated and controversial arguments. But his last words while on earth underpin what Kathleen was doing.
Jesus had already told his followers that, in this world, they would encounter trouble. The Greek word used for trouble means ‘pressure accompanied by times of real pain’. No wonder it’s the same word used to describe childbearing! On that previous occasion, he told them not to be afraid because he had overcome the world.
Now, when Jesus is on the point of returning to heaven, he gives a quick summary of what he expects his followers to concentrate on doing. Then he says ‘And remember: I am with you always, even to the end of this age.’
Jesus requires those of us still in our human bodies to express this physically. To be with those going through ‘times of real pain’. To stay close. To hold. To be there.
Many years ago, when my wife and I were going through a period of great pain in our own lives, a friend used to come in whenever she could. She’d just arrive, make a cup of tea, stand or sit in the kitchen with us while we drank it and then go. She never said a word. She didn’t need to.
Psalm 23 has this line ‘Yes, even though I pass through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.’
That’s God’s promise. That’s what people down the ages have found to be wholly true. He’ll always come when we ask Him.
As we wait and watch with those going through suffering we can reflect this.
Pray for the people of Machynlleth
By Nigel O’Dwyer, who lives and works in Worthing