Habakkuk 3:1, 17- 19
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
The early spring of 2001 was a mixture of happy and sad times for me. My Session Clerk at the time had announced her forthcoming marriage and asked me officiate, and given her Church contacts that was a tremendous compliment, but at the end of January my elder brother died at the tragically early age of 56. I was told by my Kirk Session that all Langholm ministers rode the Common Riding* at least once during their tenure so I started to take lessons to learn to ride and discovered a wonderful new hobby, but two or three weeks into the course of lessons at a Riding School just outsides Longtown, the famous market there became the epicentre of the outbreak of Foot and Mouth.
Over the next few months the South of Scotland became a very quiet place. Tourists were actively discouraged from coming, footpaths were closed, in a lot of ways a dress rehearsal for the present lockdown.
But it wasn’t a rehearsal, it was a real live tragedy. Farmers who could trace the pedigree of their cattle back to before the First World War had to stand and watch as the herds were destroyed and burnt on huge pyres in front of them. I can still, after nearly twenty years, taste and smell the air when a local farm had been culled.
They were desperate times, people wondered whether the Border Hills would ever again be studded with wee blackface sheep, or the Dumfries fields would again echo to the sound of herds being called in for milking. Would there be no end?
During that time I preached more than once on this desolate scene painted by Habakkuk, where agriculture is in ruins, no animals in the plains and no crops in the field. The country is barren and so are her people.
Well almost. Like the exiles trudging away from Israel into Babylon when nearly everything is lost, Habakkuk remembers that hope in his saviour, hope in a new beginning, hope that strength will be renewed and in this hope he finds reason to praise God and rejoice.
The parallels to today are startlingly obvious, as is the hope that comes from our faith, they may be misunderstood they may even be condemned but we know how real they are.
The day may be dark, cold and wet but it is the day that the Lord had made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Lord God, our loving Father in Heaven, we rejoice not because things are great; they are far from it, but we rejoice because we are not alone. You are with us and together we will see the new dawn of a new future, possibly not the one we intended, but the one you always knew we could cope with. Hear our praises O Lord and help us to remember you are with us.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,
*P.S. The Session at Langholm lied – I was the first one fool enough to believe them and Ride out on a July morn, not that I have ever regretted doing so!