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Last week marked the beginning of a new normal for me. A phrase which we will no doubt become familiar, but which I still find a little uncomfortable. I was able to return to my office and visit clients, of course whilst observing social distancing and using PPE. Speaking to my colleagues and whilst driving around it looks as though one aspect of the partial release from lockdown that many people are enjoying is the opportunity to play sports again. I have seen people practising their spin bowling and golf drives; shooting hoops and sending home penalty corners; tennis players are on the courts again and fishermen are on the river – I am Itchen to Test my skills (apologies) against a wild trout. Let’s not forget the Gardeners in their fruit cages too. This observation led to a wry thought:
Q: As soon as we are free what do we want to do?
A: Surround ourselves with nets.
On May 31st this year we marked the festival of Pentecost (there’s a net in there if you look carefully). So called because it came 50 days after the first Passover and the arrival of the Israelites at Sinai. The Old Testament Feast is reflected in the New Testament, as recorded in Chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles. Please read it as it will put my thoughts in context. In short:
In the ten days between Ascension Day (marked on Thursday May 21st this year) and Pentecost, the Archbishop of Canterbury encouraged us to join the prayer initiative – Thy Kingdom Come – that more people might come to know the love of Christ. Those ten days mark the time between Christ’s ascension into heaven and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, during which Christ had instructed his apostles to stay at home (something which most of us are all too accustomed) and ‘wait for the promise of the Father’ whereupon they would ‘receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judaea and in Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth’. It was a similar promise to that he had made to the first of his apostles – Simon Peter, James and John. ‘Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men’. You may remember this was after he had encouraged them to cast their fishing nets one more time after a blank night, only to be rewarded with a massive catch. These men of the sea, with no real understanding of Christ’s purpose, immediately gave up everything and followed him. (I hope you spotted the reference to the net).
I am sure you know this, but in the early days of the Christian church, when its followers were being persecuted by the Romans, they would use a simple drawing of a fish as a symbol to mark a safe meeting place. This was because the initial letters, in Greek, of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour spelt out the word fish. You may have seen the fish symbol used today on a bumper sticker, or lapel pin, as an outward display of a Christian’s faith, but back to those nets. Last Sunday marked the commemoration of the arrival of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Spirit was evident then and the tongues of fire continue to burn today. As followers of Christ we are encouraged to bear witness and evangelize. Might we dare hope that in the new normal we will feel better able to speak to those we meet on the golf course, beside the river, wherever it might be, of the love of Christ and to offer to pray with them?
Let us instead pray for new believers. Perhaps 3,000 is optimistic, but if we all aimed to bring five people we know closer to Christ this year it would be a good start. To misquote Chief Brody, who you will remember was going after a particularly large fish, we might even pray that ‘we’re going to need a bigger net’ to catch them all in.