Knowing my interest in history, the jobbing builder I worked with in the late 1970’s offered to show me an old building. Imagine my surprise that when we arrived at the Cambridgeshire village of Litlington – just a mile from home – he took a key from his pocket and opened the door of the village lock up.
No one really knows who built it nor exactly when. We don’t even know who the last prisoner was who occupied it. You can still see it today. Thanks to the efforts of my friend John Stamford, it’s in good repair and stands boldly in the middle of the village.
All I know from one brief incursion was that it was very dark (just a small metal grill served as a window), smelt strongly of earth and the metal door closed with a mighty clang.
Back in the middle of the seventeenth century at a time of civil war, Richard Lovelace a prisoner in the Gatehouse Jail near Westminster Abbey penned these words to an unknown Althea;
Stone walls do not a prison make nor iron bars a cage.
Faced by events and circumstances beyond our control we face not a lock up but rather, a lock in. There may not be stone walls or iron bars but Lovelace’s words seem very appropriate when we consider where we are. It’s not quite house arrest but there is strong pressure on us to stay in, keep calm and carry on as best we can.
It’s very hard not being able to do the things we want to do. The sun’s shining at last and all kinds of outdoor recreations beckon …. except we’re urged to limit our travel and avoid unnecessary contact. We are social beings so it’s tough being limited in that way, especially when we have come to a blue skied spring at the end of a wet and dismal winter.
Being locked down may be a physical restriction but I pray that it will not become a spiritual impediment for any of us. Remember Paul’s words to the Galatian church when they sought to throw off the yoke of a legalistic, rule bound religion to embrace the grace of Christ?
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1)
What does such “freedom” mean at a time like this? We are free to worship God by ourselves or with others when and where it’s practicable. We are free to pray for other people and to write, phone or e mail them to tell we have done that. Above all, we are free to recall and take on board that there is nothing in all creation that can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus (Romans 8: 35 – 39).
That love lies at the heart of the Easter story. What could be seen as a dreadful defeat is, in reality, a wonderful victory. Even if earthly restrictions remain today, the freedom and victory that Christ gained over sin enables us to see beyond our own circumstances.
We have to accept our restrictions but we can choose God’s freedom. Let’s do it!