Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
On Holy Saturday afternoon I took the opportunity to browse through a copy of the Guardian and found in the centre pages a photo gallery of numerous victims of the COVID-19 virus. For each person mentioned there was a photograph and a short biography of their life. The reading of these obituaries left me overwhelmed and heartbroken – I was moved by the story of an elderly War Veteran; a Lancaster Bomber pilot who had survived numerous bombing raids over Nazi Germany but someone who succumbed in a matter of hours to this dreadful disease. I marvelled at the courage of a sick hospital consultant who in his final hours implored his medical colleagues to tend to the needs of others who were more likely to survive. These poignant biographies were a reminder of the sheer scale of innocent suffering and arbitrary death. I found myself asking the question; what on earth does Easter mean in the midst of such wide-scale suffering and death?
I found consolation and hope in the Gospel of John (John 20:19-31) where the Gospel writer depicts the events of the first Easter Sunday evening. It appears that the disciples of Jesus were in a self-imposed ‘lockdown’ of sorts for John tells us that they were shut away behind locked doors. After the heady events of the Garden Tomb, they were now a community paralysed by fear and consumed with the desire for self-preservation. The Risen Christ makes himself known by coming amongst them unbidden and bearing the costly scars of Calvary (v.20). In a prevailing climate of fear and doubt he offers them the abiding peace of God and breathes the very life of God’s Spirit into their fragile hearts. They are now a community who have encountered the Risen Lord – at once reassured, empowered and apostolic as they become the sent disciples who will continue Christ’s mission in the world! (v.21-22). John’s telling of the resurrection of Jesus conflates Easter and Pentecost together and by doing so he reminds us that the Church is defined by the presence and calling of the Risen Christ – it is not defined by fear, viral pandemic or anything else!
At the present time we are a Church in exile and deprivation as we experience the costly restrictions of ‘lockdown’ and yet it is in this very context that once again we affirm the Easter faith that Christ is risen. Let us open our hearts and minds to the Risen Christ and let us trust that in similar fashion, Christ is waiting to meet us, to speak the abiding peace of the living God into our lives and to empower us through his grace for our life together. At some stage we will emerge from this ‘hell’ and we shall do so as a generation who bear the scars of COVID-19. As I have indicated before, it is very likely that all of us, to a lesser or greater degree, will be touched in some way by the pain of this season. However we do not need to be defined by these scars for we are a people of hope; who believe and trust in the God of living hope who has raised the Son of his glory from death to life. This is our hope, our faith and our message to the World, even in the midst of a world-wide pandemic.
This week I conclude with the words of Brian Wren;
‘Christ is alive and comes to bring
Good news to this and every age,
Till earth and sky and ocean ring
With joy, with justice, love and praise.’
With blessing and peace at Easter, Julian