Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Lazarus tests positive

The First Sunday after Trinity
14 June 2020
10.30 Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

In 1848 the Sunday school hymn “All things bright and beautiful” was first published

It was written by Cecil Frances Alexander who was the wife of the Archbishop of Armagh and gave us the phrase “the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate”

But by all accounts, Mrs Alexander had little inclination to change the social order

Indeed, according to the same verse, “God had made us high and lowly and ordered our estate”

It is little surprise therefore that this verse was later removed from the hymn 

Indeed this verse was banned by the Inner London Education Authority in 1982

But the verse from the hymn comes from the reading this morning

A story which is about privilege

Privilege which ensures that the rich man remains in his castle and the poor man at his gate

And the story this morning struck me as a parable for our time

One of the questions that has intrigued most of us about the pandemic is “who is the most susceptible”?

The principal factor is age -put simply, the older you are the more at risk you are

However, as well as age, there is a strong correlation between the Coronavirus and poverty

At first blush this seems illogical

A virus is indiscriminate and can clearly affect Kings and commoners alike

However, although anyone can be affected, the poorer you are, the more likely you are to contract the virus

And in the context of the story this means Lazarus is more likely to be infected than Dives

But why might this be?

First of all, there is a direct correlation between pay and proximity at work

The richer you are the more likely you are to work from home

Had this story been written today, it is highly likely that Dives would have had a well-paid job which enabled him to work at home

Lazarus on the other hand would have probably been working in a factory, care home, tube station, if at all

Secondly, whereas Dives can go to work by car, if he chooses

Lazarus has to rely on public transport thereby placing himself at a greater risk of infection

Pressed in like a sardine, Lazarus has little or no chance of social distancing

Dives not only has a car but is dropped outside the door

Thirdly, at the end of the day, when Dives goes back to his castle, all his family have sufficient space to socially distance themselves

Lazarus on the other hand lives in a flat with three generations of his family who are also BAME

It is little wonder therefore that Lazarus has just tested positive for coronavirus

As a resulted of a poor diet he suffers from heart disease

Even though he is in his sixties, he may well succumb to the virus when others survive

Put another way, poverty has killed him whereas privilege has saved Dives

I have just finished reading a magisterial book entitled “The History of the Bible” by John Barton

In the final chapter, Barton made this remark about the nature of the Gospels

“The narrative books {of the Bible] do not tell what we should believe, but set up a world into which we can enter imaginatively and have our perceptions changed”

I may have taken some liberties in transporting the story of Dives and Lazarus into 2020

But the point, I hope, is well made

The story is about privilege

Privilege at the time of our Lord and privilege in 2020

We are all a privileged people but with privilege comes responsibility

Responsibility to look after the poor, confront social injustice and seek to build a fairer world

A world that reflects the Kingdom of Heaven lest we too end up being excluded from that self-same Kingdom

That is the challenge to us all today, as it was two thousand years ago