Only two weeks remain in the Easter season, but for many of us we may still be waiting to feel the joy of celebrating Christ’s resurrection. It is the greatest cornerstone of our faith, and yet where is there new life, hope, triumph over death, and the glory of God in the midst of a global pandemic?
Closer to home, how have we coped with social isolation, fear of the virus, job loss or the emotional strain of having no break from the members of our households, while missing being able to see friends and relatives outside? For those who are essential workers, or who live in areas that are opening up, how does it feel to work and interact with the constraints of masks, sanitizing and distancing?
The world has turned up-side-down.
Add to coronavirus the contagion infecting the politics of many countries: leaders who disown responsibility, scapegoat minorities, and make an artform of lying and maligning others. How could this redound to the common good of the people they are sworn to serve? Meanwhile the body count of COVID-19 deaths has resulted in the shocking sight of mobile morgues and mass graves.
All this may leave us feeling mired in gloom and death, far from the Resurrection that we know is real yet fail to see right now. Certainly this is how I was feeling recently, when I sat to pray, in a ‘place’ somewhere between righteous anger and anxious despair.
But our admittedly upside-down world is not, perhaps, very different at all from the upside-down-ness of the world of Jesus’ time.
After all, had things been working perfectly, it’s doubtful that a fickle public would in one moment wave palms and welcome the healer and preacher to the city, and in the next moment shout “Crucify Him!” If the world operated according to God’s vision, a leader who recognized the injustice of a trumped up charge of an innocent man, would never have gone along with the injustice of executing him.
The “Ring of Truth”
The scripture reading on the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Acts 2:36-41) has Peter speaking to this crowd in Jerusalem. He explains who Jesus was – that he was the messiah, whom the prophets had spoken about, and for whom they had for generations all been praying and hoping. Yet they had demanded his execution, and now he was dead.
When the crowd really listened and heard Peter’s explanation, it had the “ring of truth” in their ears. Peter’s message did to them what the truth should always do to us: “they were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). The truth goes to our heart, to the center; it brings us home.
Even when the truth is painful, as it was for that crowd, admitting they were wrong (and tragically, so) must nevertheless have given them some relief. Perhaps you have felt that in your own lives, as I have, after receiving a harsh correction, or realizing that I was wrong and it hurt somebody. It may be a somber moment, because of the feeling of guilt and regret; yet it is freeing too because, in seeing things clearly, one can then apologize, do things differently, make a new start.
Hearing the ‘ring of truth’ is itself a gift or grace. The crowd that day was fortunate, in that their ears were open enough to recognize the truth in Peter’s words. Yet it can take time. For us, among other things, we can pray for our leaders – for all of us really — to have the grace to hear and respond to the truth as the crowd did that day.
The Risen Jesus Appears to People in Distress
It is not easy to wait, to be patient, especially when suffering or lies appear to dominate the world around us. In a sense that has been my ‘complaint’ to God lately: “Why must we endure the suffering of our world, and so many important people doing what is wrong? Why, though it is Easter, do I feel overwhelmed by my awareness of death rather than life? Your light, O God, seems very dim right now!”
Then, in praying these days with some of the resurrection appearances of Jesus, my complaint has seemingly been answered with a gentle insight: almost every time the Risen Jesus appeared to his disciples, they were in gloom, grief or fear. He came, spoke, instructed, and left them amazed and changed.
Mary Magdalene was weeping outside the tomb, Jesus appeared, spoke to her and, in saying her name she recognized him, was elated and ran to tell the others (John 20:11-18).
Two disciples beset by grief and uncertainty, fearful about the future, were fleeing Jerusalem. Jesus drew near, walked with them, cast new light on their experience by his words, they felt like their ‘hearts were burning,’ they recognized him for who he was while they broke bread together, and they ran to share the news (Luke 24:13-35).
Twice Jesus appeared to the disciples while they were locked away in fear, encouraged them and turned their attention to what lay ahead, not what lay behind (John 20:19-29).
It almost seems as if gloom, grief and fear were not a hindrance for the risen Jesus to appear, but actually the perfect context.
When will we experience the joy of Easter? How will the resurrection truth manifest in our world?
As for his disciples, when we hold still for a bit – giving room to our grief, letting tears flow, but doing it together with others — the two Mary’s at the tomb, the two disciples on the road, the disciples in the locked room – Jesus will draw near, speak to us, set our hearts on fire with hope, and a mission to let his love transform the world.
Although we may be physically isolating to keep coronavirus from spreading, let it not be a social or a spiritual isolation. Let’s not hide from one another, from God, or hide even from our unpleasant feelings. Instead, let’s cry together, pray together, hope together—and do it in Jesus name. For he promised that when we gather together in circumstances such as these he would be with us (Matthew 18:20). And that is the truth, which ‘cuts to the heart,’ and makes all the difference in the world.
From the Canticle of Zechariah:
“In the tender compassion of our Lord
The dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
And the shadow of death,
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.”