Often you will hear people speak of ‘natural resources’ to refer to the likes of things such as water, forests, land. But there is another more even more precious natural resource – human relationships. I am certain that love and social connection matter more than anything else in life. The priority of such relationships is not always immediately recognisable.
Often though in a time of crisis – whether at the family, communal, national or world level that crisis strengthens our relational wealth by drawing us closer together.
What makes things so strained just now is that we are actually being asked to distance ourselves from others. Not just physically but in some cases because of quarantine even greater isolation is called for. Such circumstances stress the very social connections we all rely upon. The resulting loneliness, fear and uncertainty cause many folk to look around for signs of hope.
One individual whose life comes to mind as an inspirational hope in a crisis is Martin Rinkart (1586-1649). He was a gifted musician at several prominent churches in Saxony, Germany, before returning to Ministry. He then served for 30 years before his death the people of Eilenburg – years which almost overlapped with the terrible Thirty Years’ War.
Because it was a walled city, refugees from the surrounding countryside, besieged by the invasions of the Swedish military, poured into Eilenburg. It did not take long for famine and pestilence to set in. In 1637 alone, 8000 people died of disease – including other ministers, Springfield Cambridge Church
most of the town council, and Rinkart’s own wife. He was left to minister to the whole city, sometimes preaching at burial services for as many as 200 dead in a single week. Known as a faithful and caring pastor, he gave away everything he owned except for the barest essentials to care for his family.
In the depth of the communal suffering around him, Rinkart wrote a hymn text with familiar words to us:
“Now thank we all our God,
With hearts and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things He has done,
In whom this world rejoices.”
In sharing this story, I am not likening our situation to that of Rinkart’s time, although there are some parallels. Today around us a raft of people are labouring to keep us safe – from the staff in our NHS (for whom we assemble on a Thursday evening to applaud), to a range of key workers, including shop workers, delivery drivers, refuse collectors, to name but a few, seen and unseen alike. Whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, we are all in this together.
In another verse, Rinkart speaks of a bounteous God staying near us through our anxiety:
“Keep us all in grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all harm,
In this world and the next.”
It is a hymn worth coming back to at the present time when we are in ‘lock down’ wondering when we will see our most precious natural resource fully restored. Rev Ian Taylor