One thing l have had more chance to do in the lockdown is to read. I am just finishing ‘The Worm Forgives the Plough’, by John Stewart Collis. The date is 1940, and the author, who is an academic and an unsuccessful writer, signs up for farm work instead of going to fight. A not very practical person, he has to learn the skills of agricultural work among the down to earth Dorset farm community.
One day, after months of back-break and muddy work, he suddenly feels a great desire to go an dine in an expensive hotel. Changing his clothes, he went: “I blinkingly looked round at the good lighting, the polished floor and the groups of well-dressed, amiable-looking people”. It seemed like a dream, and he had no right to be there. Late at night, he cycles back home and gazed into the farmyard- “the pile of manure, the muddy pool, the old binder in the corner, the oil-cans and sacks” through the dreary and dripping darkness. Then he realises that without this unrecognised and unglamorous labour there would be no expensive hotel, and no food.
We all see the dazzling scenes of success and recognition, but do we think of the long hours of study; the years of practice; the mistakes, frustration and rejection. Or just think of something as ‘ordinary’ as a church service [especially when there is music!] and all that has gone into in. Unrecognised, forgotten, but ultimately this is where true growth happens.
When we read St Paul’s epistles, their dazzling words and ideas came out of painful relationships, constant worry, and the rustle of rats in the straw of his prison. And our Lord Jesus’ promise of indwelling love came immediately before his betrayal [John 17: 26].
Of course, we need both. The sacks of wheat and vegetables from the farm would have been pointless without becoming a wonderful meal. The gospel we preach has this balance, which our depressed, ‘what’s the point?’/ instant lottery winning, celebrity focused generation needs to hear. As the risen Jesus said to the church in Thyatira: “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience and thy works… and I will give him the morning star” [Revelation 3: 18 and 28]. [In this verse, the repeated words for service feel like the plod of patient service- and then it is ended with a surprise insight into our life to come!
Eternal Father, your plan for me is for quiet service which no one may see; and to share in your glory, which will fill the world. Keep me faithful in all you call me to do, and steadfast in my faith that I will be part of your new creation, in glory which will never end. In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came as out servant, our friend and our redeemer. Amen
by David Pitcher