Monthly message from the vicar
On Setting Prisoners Free
All good leaders have a clear and memorable manifesto for action. One of my favourite leadership announcements includes the promise of good news for the poor and the proclamation of liberty to captives and is sometimes known as the Nazareth Manifesto.*
Through a long and strange spring and summer, we’ve moved past the beginning of harvest season and the first mists of autumn are upon us. As the season of shortening days and mellow fruitfulness arrives, I find myself reflecting on that Nazareth Manifesto promise to set prisoners free.
What does it feel like to be given freedom after a period of captivity or a time of imprisonment?
This year, most, maybe all of us, will have had some experience of constraints on our freedom and for those of us who were shielding from the beginning this will have been several months of rigorous containment at home.
As some freedoms were returned to us the word lockdown kept being used. For freedoms had been set aside in order to show our care and commitment to the health and wellbeing of all. After all, if lockdown was now easing, then we had been locked in even if with our own consent.
Now we were being released surely all would be delighted. There are many bible stories of God’s people moving from slavery to freedom; among them Moses leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt or the return from years of captivity in Babylon. In both cases the people’s response is complex – grumbling about the leadership; nostalgia for the cucumbers and melons of Egypt or the weariness of having to take up the hard task of rebuilding not simply the Temple, but also the community after the Exile.
In many ways it seemed easier at first. I knew where I was and tried to adapt to the loss of freedoms; This time of easing has not been easy. It seems that I may not be alone.
As I can stretch my limbs again beyond the confines of my home and garden (not forgetting the privilege of having both of those) and as my husband and I have a few precious days without the responsibility and care for an elderly relative I need to remember that I can choose to use my freedoms and responsibility kindly as well as wisely.
I can use this experience to imagine why release from imprisonment might feel threatening or frightening; to understand that the surprising sharpness from friends might reflect fear that all is not yet safe; that there is sadness at the loss of planned activity; that grief for the loss loved ones may have intensified in isolation; that for many who live with the ongoing lockdown of illness or disability face these challenges for many months or years longer than I have been constrained by a virus. I can choose to use my freedom to remember those who return to a future forever changed by the loss of employment or the disabling aftermath of disease or to write another letter to argue for the freedom of those who are imprisoned and for whom the promise of being set free has not yet been made a reality. May you too find time and space to adjust to the freedoms of the ‘new normal’ and patience to endure the continued restrictions of your daily life.
*Luke 4:1-15 quoting Isaiah 61.