A few years ago I needed to be in Cambridge for an early morning meeting. Allowing time for travel and finding my parking space – which I had pre booked in someone’s front garden – I arrived early. Very early. So early, in fact, that the cafes and coffee shops had yet to open.
I took the opportunity for an early morning stroll along familiar streets that I’d walked along to study, ran along to the river to row or pedalled furiously down to work.
Of course, things had changed in the intervening 35 years since I’d last been there: the Red Lion had gone (that’s a statue not a pub) and my old office had moved away from the bus station to the pedestrian precinct.
What struck me most of all was the noise or, rather, the lack of it. There were a few people around hurrying along but not many cars, the cyclist reigning supreme on some of the flattest land in the UK. The pigeons chattered at the seeds on the cobbles of the market square, taking flight only when the first stallholders began to lay out their produce. Memory plays tricks but I don’t remember it ever being as quiet as that, even on a wet Sunday in midwinter.
What was unusual then, is common now in all our towns and cities across the UK. Commerce (with a few exceptions) has fallen silent, students have left for home, buses run empty where they run at all and the few people who are out seem to pass quickly on to their destination.
On another occasion of national crisis, a perceptive observer of the human and spiritual condition penned these words:
How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!
How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces, has now become a slave.
It is remarkable how, in such a short space of time, the places where we live can change beyond recognition. The desertion of our cities is not the result of ethnic cleansing - we face an unseen adversary – yet the consequences are no less severe. Just as Jeremiah observed the breakdown of his society, weeping as he did over Jerusalem, (the words I quoted are taken from Lamentations 1:1), there is much for us to observe, to feel pain for and to grieve over.
There was then, and there are now, glimpses of blessing in the hardships we face. Many commentators remark on the hands on support being provided by strangers and we’re all aware of the incredible response to the appeal for volunteers for the NHS. Even when a place is deserted, the people needn’t be.
Just as Jeremiah could see the possibility of a new way of life emerging, so we can see the same today. An empty town or city, quiet in the spring sunshine need not mean that lives of the people are empty, nor that their dreams have been snuffed out. We wait and we dream, we pray and we hope.
We might, to our profit, see our time of lockdown as a time of waiting but patient waiting that we put to good use. Remembering that God has not abandoned our cities, towns and villages – nor has he left us; working on our relationships whether it’s with those who same the same space or friends and family at a distance. Above all, spend time with God.
I’ve found this song really helpful and encouraging: I hope you will too.
(Our God – Chris Tomlin)
Be blessed in your work and resting today