It was my last morning walk through the verdant Cotswold countryside before beating a hasty, virus-prompted retreat to the States. I had left our little cottage in Buckland, turned down the bridle path leading to the adjacent village of Laverton, then climbed over a wooden stile into a grassy field full of sheep, heavy with the anticipation of lambing. Crossing over a narrow lane, I proceeded toward what I call “the secret path”—one which I personally keep cleared of blackberry brambles, simply because I like walking quietly along a narrow path that few other villagers use. Emerging from the nearby “wood,” I made my way around the outer Laverton lane before heading through a long gate and up the steep hill where I could look back and see distant views across the Vale of Evesham, all the way west to the Malvern hills and beyond. Glorious!
Crossing more flower-laden fields, I passed just behind The Buckland Manor, our local four-star hotel (once home to the lord of the manor). I then sauntered down onto the single lane that winds through Buckland’s twenty-seven quaint cottages, and walked alongside the babbling brook next to the graveyard, neatly enclosed within traditional dry-stone walls. A pall of white roses still adorned the fresh grave where we had buried a local villager the week before.
Looking up to my left at St. Michael’s church, elevated majestically above the lane, I was struck by the thought that our current pandemic would be but a passing footnote to a structure that has stood since the 13th century. This ancient stone church has witnessed a succession of some thirty English kings and queens, civil wars, religious conflict, the persecution of martyrs, two world wars, and—most pertinent to us—countless devastating plagues, all the way back to the Great Plague of 1348-1350. If only the stones of St. Michael’s could talk! Strangely, that thought brought a sense of comfort and perspective regarding our current crisis. This, too, shall pass! No calamity lasts forever. On the other side, there is always renewal. Darkness is followed by the dawn, winter by the spring. In the aftermath of the Flood, God himself promised that “as long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Gen. 8:22).
Solomon’s wisdom (Eccl. 3:1-17) lends perspective. If this is a time to refrain from embracing, the time is coming when once again we will joyfully embrace! If this is a time to weep, think how much dearer the laughter yet to come! If this is a time for thousands to die, don’t be surprised at the thousands of babies likely to burst on the scene this Christmas! “Because of the Lord’s great love (Lam. 3:22-24), we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning!” And never more so than on that quiet resurrection morning when hope emerged from the despair of the tomb! When the Son arose to bring light to utter darkness—that very same Lord of Creation who brought all things into being, including the verdant Cotswolds, the sheep, the blackberry brambles, the glorious, everlasting Malvern hills, and the flowers of the field that neither toil nor spin yet are arrayed more resplendently than King Solomon himself.
Ah, St. Michael’s—a stack of weathered stones standing sentinel-like through centuries of conflict, crisis, and despair. Yet, none of those stones would be there had it not been for a single stone that was rolled away. A stone that brought hope to countless generations of shepherds, servants, and peasants who once walked these same Buckland paths to worship at St. Michaels. Many died in the plagues of their day. Many more lived to tell the story of God’s unfailing love!