Costly love (06-11-20)
Bible Reading: John 15. 12 - 17
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
During this week, I have been reading again the moving story of the Derbyshire village of Eyam. The village was infected by the plague, carried there by a tailor from London in 1665. In the face of this deadly pestilence, the new rector, the Reverend William Mompesson, persuaded the people of the village to voluntarily self-isolate and completely cut themselves off from the surrounding area to prevent the plague spreading. Supported by the Earl of Devonshire at Chatsworth, who ensured they had food and supplies, Eyam faced a grim lockdown far worse than any we shall ever face, not knowing how long it would last.
Within the village, families kept themselves to themselves. The church was closed and despite the large number of deaths, there were no funeral services. Family members frequently had to bury their own dead, one woman burying her husband and six children, all in the same week. Paintings reveal that church services were held outside in Cucklet Delf with families standing apart socially distanced. Vinegar was their equivalent of antibacterial hand gel. Having sent their children away from the village before the lockdown, Mompesson and his wife heroically ministered to the sick and dying in the village rather than deserting them. This was costly love indeed, which came at a high price. 75% of the population died, including Mompesson’s wife. This is the costly love of which Jesus speaks in John’s gospel. The people of Eyam were prepared to lay down their lives for the sake of others in the surrounding villages and beyond. The plague was contained and spread no further. What is more, their action produced fruit that has lasted. Residents of Eyam speak of a deep love and compassion for one another still in evidence today and they continue to be inspired by the sacrifice of their forbears.
As we approach Remembrance weekend, we find ourselves starting a further national lockdown with our freedoms curbed once more. It is pertinent this year to remember not only those men and women of the armed services who have given their lives to protect that freedom, but also those who have died from Covid-19. Government figures for the UK now confirm that well over a million people have had the virus and over 47,000 have died. During the past months, dedicated NHS staff have put their own lives on the line to care for the sick and the dying in hospitals up and down the country. Like the people of Eyam, some have paid the ultimate price for the sake of others.
Heavenly Father, we give thanks for all within the NHS and within the armed forces, who risk their own safety for the wellbeing and freedom of others. We thank you for their courage and resolve, and their determination to put others before themselves. May we too be prepared to lay self-interest aside and show costly love in the service of one another. Amen.
Here is love, vast as the ocean