The two of us, Fr Jerome and me, are standing here in an empty church. Mary of Magdala, Peter, and John, were standing at an empty tomb. They were confused, yet hopeful. I imagine the realisation that their teacher, their friend, their Lord had risen from the dead staggered them. Yes, there were all those statements about death and resurrection he’d made to them, particularly on the last trip to Jerusalem, but coming after the horror of the crucifixion, and after the deep shame at least Peter felt about his betrayal, the empty tomb would have been shocking. A wonderful shock, but a shock nonetheless. After some thought, they may well have realised the truth that nothing was going to stay the same, that their lives had now fundamentally changed.
I can’t speak for Jerome, but I know that, in this beautiful, empty church I too feel confused, yet hopeful. The pandemic has staggered the entire world. After this global experience the world will not be the same as it was before, and it probably should not be. We know that many people around the world will struggle to support themselves. The poor in Australia, and even more in those many nations without Australia’s resources, will suffer disproportionately. There is already talk of a global depression like there was 90 years ago. And yet in the midst of this fear and confusion there is hope. Most people look out for each other. We are inspired by the courage and dedication of so many nurses, doctors, health workers, and all those who must put themselves in danger to keep society functioning. Many governments are taking seriously their responsibility to care for the common good, to protect people’s lives. These are all signs of hope.
After the resurrection the first followers of Jesus knew that they had good news for the world. The question was how to tell the world about it. It took them some time but eventually they realised they had to move out from Jerusalem, move out from the familiar rituals of the Temple, find ways of working in a pagan world that was strange to them, even dangerous. This took decades, centuries to work out, and in fact we’re still working it out.
The first disciples had to deal with trauma of betrayal, crucifixion, and the shock of resurrection. We disciples now have had to deal with the shock and trauma of the abuse revelations, losing trust in our leaders, feeling betrayed by those we trusted. The pandemic has added another layer of trauma on to this, as we experience an Easter without crowded churches, with our familiar rituals abbreviated. And yet the resurrection tells us that there is hope, hope of new life, hope that despair and betrayal and death are not the last words. Our church people in institutions around the world come together to support each other through the pandemic, to feed the poor, to care for the sick. Parishes like ours around the world are adapting, doing the best we can in shocking circumstances to continue preaching the word.
Yes, I believe this pandemic, and all the trauma our church has experienced, will change the way we work, the way we preach the gospel, the ways in which we bring the risen Christ to each other and to the world. In John’s gospel, the first words that Jesus speaks after the resurrection are to Mary of Magdala. His first word is ‘Mary’. He calls her by name. Our faith is that the risen Lord calls each of us by name, invites each of us to live a new life of hope. I believe we shall have to find new ways of preaching the word, new ways of celebrating the new life we are given by Jesus. At this Easter we can be full of hope that we are called by name to spread the word that death is not the end, that we are all invited to new life.
May we all have a happy, if rather strange, Easter!
Deacon Jim Curtain, 12 April 2020