There’s something comforting about familiarity, isn’t there?
This last week has seen us trying settle into a kind of new ‘normal’ in the Rhodes house, after the adrenaline rush of the previous fortnight, where each day brought something new to tackle. Two of us are working from home pretty much full-time and Mike is working slightly unusual shifts, all of which means we are having to learn how to pace ourselves sensibly without the normal patterns of our week to help us.
Everyone has even got used to having to be quiet during the live-streamed services and I’ve got used to keeping my dining room/study a bit tidier than normal! We haven’t quite trained the postman yet, who knocked extremely loudly during Wednesday’s worship, but we’ll get there.
But, as pragmatic and strong as we are, I’m not ashamed to say that we have all felt a bit vulnerable and unsettled in the midst of all these new ways of working and living. It’s safe to say that we are all hankering after a bit of familiarity. Familiar feels safe and secure. It gives us confidence.
This was brought home to me on Thursday, when I took a lovely lady’s funeral. As I pulled on my cassock, I realised how comfortingly familiar it felt to do up each button, having not worn it for a couple of weeks. Nothing much else was normal, as the rules around the safe running of funeral services have changed the way services work, but the feel of my cassock and surplice and the preaching scarf around my neck were oddly reassuring and helped me to do my best to support the family in that most difficult of moments.
As I have re-read the gospel accounts of the final week of Jesus’s earthly life, it has struck me that Jesus seemed to look for comfort in the familiar too. We know that he was scared and unsettled during that week. He knew what was coming. In Mark’s gospel, in particular, it is striking how many times he leaves Jerusalem and goes up to Bethany in that week – this would have been less than an hour’s walk out of the city walls, across the valley and through the Mount of Olives. Importantly, it is where his friends lived.
Jesus was a long way from home – Galilee was a 3 day walk away – and in the midst of the confrontation, challenge and fear waiting for him inside the walls of Jerusalem, it seems he just needed the comfortable familiarity of his friends’ home.
If Jesus needed familiarity at times of high stress and pressure, then I think we can probably forgive ourselves for feeling like we need it too. If the Son of God asked his closest friends to stay with him as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, then we probably shouldn’t feel bad for wanting to find ways of feeling close to our own family and friends, when physical meeting is impossible, especially when we are tackling unsettling and upsetting situations.
As we go into Holy Week, and follow Jesus from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem to his death on a cross and then to his resurrection, we will see him demonstrate great vulnerability as well as enormous strength – often at the same time. The two things are not mutually exclusive and as we continue in this “new normal”, I believe we are being asked to notice this and follow Jesus’ example – look for the familiar where we can, find comfort in connection with others (even if it’s virtual) and remember that God loves us and understands our suffering and discomfort in these days.
Because, of course, the most reassuringly familiar thing we have to lean on at the moment is the unfailing, unchanging, unending love of God – to whom we can bring our strength and our vulnerability and everything else, as he walks alongside us on our own Holy Week journeys.