There are times when the liturgical calendar matches the public mood. There are times when it does not, and this is one of them, at least as far as I am concerned. This is still a Lenten time, a time of solitude and denial of many of the things that make us most truly human. It is a time of not knowing if this will end well. It is a Jeremiah kind of time when we fear that we might echo his words: “Harvest is past, summer is over and we are not saved” (8:20). It is a time when, hovering between life and death, important people spend three days in an incubator. It is a time when self-justifying Governors and governments act impulsively to mask their confusion and maintain the illusion of power. It is a heyday for populists whose noisy internet clamour seeks to stifle truth. That did not change magically on the first Easter Day.
True, as Christians, we hope and pray and believe that Easter will indeed come. HM the Queen had it about right when she spoke of our faith as giving us hope. An awful lot is invested in that hope of Resurrection in the Bible. In itself, it is not a hope of survival after death, as many suppose. It is a hope that those who have experienced injustice and for whom existence has been cruel and unremitting in this life will find comfort in another one. It is a hope that those who have been forced to cynicism and disillusion by injustice and the power of institutional evil will once again rejoice in a new dispensation. It is a hope that there is a point in doing good and that as vindication is clearly not going to come in this life, then there must be another where it will. With cruel irony, Resurrection has become a hope of continuity; of a brief break and then life as normal, reunited with the people and all the hopes we have lost. In such a world, in such a second life, a continuing second life from where we left off, all the injustices of this one would be renewed. And so, those who have done well hope for a resurrection to continue in pleasure while those who have done badly hope for a better time of it. If continuity is the theme, good luck with that.
But be careful what you hope for. Easter is nothing if it does not contain God’s surprise. There will come a time when our waiting will be over, a time when two can make a journey (like that from Jerusalem to Emmaus for example) without social distancing, and without fear when joined by a stranger. But the fact that that stranger may hold the key to the whole thing is often where the surprise is to be found. On this Easter day, the Church has understandably forced our attention to the Gospel of John for its Gospel proclamation. Quite wise that. If we were to read Luke we would find that, when the women reported back, ”the story appeared to (the disciples) nonsense and they would not believe them.” (24:11). Later that day those disciples were not filled with Easter elation but rather, “their faces were full of sadness” (24:18).
In recent days the public attention has turned to the future: not just to when the present crisis will end but what will follow it. The Easter story invites us to be both joyfully optimistic and fearful. As Tertullian said of the prayer, “thy kingdom come,” “We daily fear that for which we daily pray.” Life will not be the same. Institutions will change and outlooks will change. Culture will change. Priorities will change, the shape of world organization itself might change. There might even be a new world. The last might even be nearer the first.
This is a Lukan Easter time of waiting and of desperately trying to make sense. Faith is about believing that in the end all will be well despite our fears and despite the evidence. It is about a readiness and openness to a new way of life and not just optimism that ‘normality’ will be resumed. It is a Habakkuk moment:
The fig tree has no buds, the vines bear no harvest, the olive crop fails.
The orchards yield no food, the fold is bereft of its flock, and there are no cattle in the stalls.
Even so I shall exult in the Lord and rejoice in the God who saves me” (Hab 3:17,18).
The Reverend Canon Dr John Holdsworth,
Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf