Remember how it was just three short years ago, as globally we were reeling from the shock of a pandemic unlike anything in living memory?
Remember the deserted streets and squares, when you could sneak an early morning walk through surreal cityscapes (see my photo of an empty Amsterdam central above)? Or the queues where we had to keep 1,5 meters distance?
Remember the daily television briefings telling us whether or not we could visit loved ones, hold planned weddings, travel or take vacations, visit hotels and restaurants, go to church or to work? Or how long we needed to isolate if we tested positive?
Remember those boring days and nights when there were no football games to distract us, no formula one races, no concerts, no cinemas, no pub gatherings, no parks or swimming pools to take the children to…?
Remember the spontaneous clanging of pots and pans to honour healthcare workers forced to work beyond the call of duty to save lives?
Remember the daily charts in the newspapers comparing the rising or falling rates of infections, intensive care cases and deaths in various nations? And the devastation to the cafes, restaurants and hotels, to airlines and other travel services?
Remember the dire predictions of a recession on a par with the 1930’s, with unemployment, bankruptcies and social unrest in many places? And the marches and demonstrations of thousands mingling everyone and anyone against vaccinations and anything else?
Remember how 2020 was expected to be a watershed year, much as was 1989 with the end of coomunism, marking the end of neo-liberal capitalism as the dominant global force, the end of the ‘Davos era’? And the hopes that Covid-19 would force lifestyle changes that would support sustainability?
Remember the discussions about whether or not worship services should be allowed? and that government restrictions on gatherings infringed the basic right to freedom of worship? And the many articles written about the shape of the post-COVID church and the normalisation of hybrid services which could be followed from your living room?
How distant that all seems now! How wrong many of the predictions were! How did we ever transition out of that seemingly endless nightmare?
Somehow the announcement in May this year by the World Health Organization (WHO) that the Covid pandemic no longer to be a global health emergency missed the headlines. Most of us seem to have moved on from the pandemic, picking up life where we had left off. Yet nearly seven million died of COVID-related causes. And while no longer an emergency, almost 700 million current cases are still being reported globally.
What distracted us from the one apocalyptic disaster of pestilence and death was, of course, a second apocalyptic horseman of war and conquest. Remember Putin’s ridiculously long table at which he met with visiting statesmen trying to convince him of the folly of his plans to invade Ukraine? His paranoia about catching COVID reminds us of the overlap between the two catastrophes.
The sudden and unprovoked attack which Putin expected would lead to Ukraine’s capitulation and submission within days has become a protracted, grinding conflict after eighteen months, with no clear end in sight. While deploying state of the art technology and armaments, the current situation also resembles the stagnated trench warfare of the Great War. Democracy and liberalism and the principles on which the UN had been founded were being blatantly challenged. War – considered unthinkable and inadmissible as a tool of international negotiation – has returned to Europe.
How much has changed in these last three years became evident as I was updating a module on European studies for our masters programme I last taught in 2020. How differently the world looked then! How much the world has experienced of the conquest, war, famine and death represented by the four apocalyptic horsemen, in these three short years, however buffered we might be in the more prosperous nations.
This Wednesday in Strasbourg, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, will present the State of the European Union address to kick off the new political year. She will no doubt talk about EU solidarity and the Ukraine war effort, immigration deals, China and the Green Deal. But neither she nor we really know what is around the corner, nor what the next three years might bring – for the world, for Europe or for us personally…
Whatever the future holds, we face it as believers with hope: a hope based on the resurrected Christ, of everything under heaven and earth being reconciled, of his kingdom coming on earth, in Europe, as it is in heaven. And through death, war, famine and conquest, we persist in prayer: May your kingdom come…
Till next week,