A question that has surfaced quite often in 2020 (and not just this year, of course, for it leaps often to our lips) is: ‘Where is God in all this?’ That question has a particular sharpness at this time when the coronavirus has turned all our lives upside down, making them impossible to plan, and bringing us face-to-face with death and loneliness and our human frailty.
Given all this, it seemed a useful idea to approach the question by way of Matthew’s Gospel, which we have been hearing on Sundays over the course of the last twelve months. Matthew begins and ends his gospel with the notion of ‘God with us’. His first Old Testament reference is to Isaiah 7:14, ‘and they shall call his name “Emmanuel”’; and to this last word the evangelist kindly appends a translation that was not in the Greek of Isaiah: ‘God with us’. Then almost the last words of the gospel repeat that theme, when the risen Jesus appears to the eleven on the mountain in Galilee, and reveals that he is indeed risen, and that they have a job to do, namely to ‘make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’, and that the reason that it is possible at all is the unfailing presence of Jesus: ‘Look! I am with you all the days, until the consummation of the age’. At the beginning and the end of this remarkable gospel, therefore, Jesus is offered to us as the unfailing presence of God; and the idea surfaces again, rather over halfway through the gospel, in the so-called ‘Church Discourse’: ‘where two or three are gathered into my name, I am there in the middle of you’ (18:20).