Today, the mandatory measures introduced for the common good in a pandemic are lifted in England, becoming a matter of personal choice.
The Old Testament reading set for Morning Prayer today is Ezekiel 14:12-23. In it, God sets out four possible consequences that a nation might bring upon itself by acting in bad faith according to God’s concern for the land, the poor, the most vulnerable, and the foreigner. These consequences are listed as famine, being over-run by wild animals, sword (war), and pestilence (epidemic). In each circumstance, God invokes the names of three characters from ancient mythology known for being righteous, or living in right relationship with their neighbours, against a backdrop of widespread self-interest: Noah, Danel (not the biblical figure Daniel, despite the English translation), and Job. Even if these righteous individuals were found in such a land, God says, they would save only their own lives, and not be able to save others, even the lives of their children.
Then God asks, and what will happen when my chosen city of Jerusalem brings judgement upon itself? Here, God’s own righteousness will extend to sparing sons and daughters, and these will be spared by their being carried off into exile, a second wave joining the already-exiled community of which Ezekiel belongs.
What of my people, today? Our bad faith has brought about catastrophic climate change, weather patterns that are now impacting even the wealthy West; has brought about a new mass extinction; has sold weapons and sown instability across in particular the Middle East. All these things have exacerbated human migration, people seeking asylum, which will only increase in the coming years; yet at this very time, we have turned our back on our neighbours, cutting foreign aid and making it illegal to seek asylum (something guaranteed under international law). And today, in a pandemic, we take steps that threaten to destabilise the global course of this disease.
What future, for our sons and daughters? Perhaps, as before, exile is their only hope.
Lord, have mercy.