You are not alone

I do not know much about babies. One thing I did not know was that very young babies are not bothered whether their parents are there or not, because they are too young to realise that they are alone. Only when they are older do they realize they are alone, get scared and cry. In more innocent times, in the early days of holiday camps, babies would be put down in their cots while their parents went to the bar. A nursery nurse would patrol the camp listening for crying babies, and there would be an announcement and the chalet number given out, ‘baby crying, chalet number 12.’

The disciples faced the prospect of double abandonment by their master Jesus, when he died on the cross and 40 days after the resurrection when he went back to heaven, which we mark this Thursday as Ascension Day.

At the Last Supper, Jesus had looked forward to this time and had given his disciples reassurance. He told them that he would not leave them as orphans, like children with no-one to care for them. Jesus often referred to his disciples as  little children. Christ shows his tender love for his disciples and he knows how weak and vulnerable they are, but he will not leave them bereft and alone. He will ask the father, to send them the Holy Spirit, who will be their advocate, defender and guardian. 

At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ parting words to his disciples are, ‘I am with you always even to the end of time.’ What reassuring words they are. Near Walsingham, lies the village of Waterden. The village has pretty well disappeared, bar a couple of houses; the tiny church across the fields has lost its tower and an aisle but is well cared for and open and above the chancel arch, is painted, ‘Lo I am with you always.’ The ancient church is an embodies the message of the text.

To feel abandoned whether because of death, the breakdown of a relationship, or estrangement following an argument is a desolate experience. Some people who regard themselves as independent can suddenly be overwhelmed by the feeling  that they are lonely.  To be shunned and avoided is miserable. Not for nothing is solitary confinement the most severe punishment in prison and cut of from social interaction. 

‘It is not good that man should live alone,’ said God in the Book of Genesis before he creates Eve to be Adam’s companion. No matter what happens to us, the Christian is never alone, for God is always with us. ‘You are with me’ the Psalmist says, 'your rod and your staff they comfort me.’

The Jews considered the Holy of Holies in the Temple to be the special place where God came to meet the High priest. God came to be close to us through the incarnation of Jesus, who is Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’ And in St John’s Gospel, Jesus takes this further: God is not just with us, but in us, through Christ and the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, God lives in us, so how can we ever be alone?

We can pray alone, but we cannot worship alone, it is something we do in community. We worship God together, together we are the church, living stones that build up the temple of Christ’s body. Church should be a place where we do not feel alone, and where the belief that we are not alone is felt to be true.

Church should be like the Cheers bar. Cheers was a popular tv comedy show set in a local bar, in Boston, Massachussets. It had a group of regulars who went through their problems together. The theme tune observed:  ‘Sometimes, you want to go, where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came, you wanna be, where you can see, our troubles are all the same, you wanna be where everybody knows your name.

‘I have called you by name’, God says through the prophet Isaiah, ‘you are mine’.

To those who feel alone, a small gesture can mean so much. I travel a lot by myself, which I don’t mind, until it comes to having a meal in the evening, when everyone else is in couples and groups enjoying themselves.  In Germany, they have a relaxed approach to single diners, if the restaurant is full they put you on a table with other people, and they welcome you, it’s very un-British, but I rather liked it.  In Mainz, I ate with a crew of air-stewardesses, which was lovely and they took me out and bought me ice cream!

Faith in Christ, brings companionship, and the knowledge that we are never alone. May we also be companions one to another along the way.