It’s Easter! Christ is risen: Alleluia!
We are Easter People, and ‘Alleluia’ is our song, yet we live in surreal and unique times.
Churches are closed and clergy told to stay away. As I write this, the confirmed infection rate for Covid-19 in the Borough of North London, where I live, is 333 cases out of a population of 333,000: that’s 0.1%.
This is not ‘good news’ – far from it. Even if we are not infected, we are affected. We are isolated at home, alone or in close company, and there is no exit strategy. And for the first time in living memory, we are being constantly told that what we do, how we behave, how we live, has a real impact on the life and death of others.
We must not be the crowd who thoughtlessly sentence others to death.
The first Easter lockdown
St John’s description of Easter Day has two parts.
First comes the garden scene, when Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty and fetches John and Peter, who afterwards return home quickly (John 20:10). Mary remains and meets Jesus, whom she wrongly assumes to be the gardener. As he says her name, she recognises him and the isolation of grief is instantly lifted.
Mary has broken her self-isolation, walking to make an essential visit to Jesus’ tomb.
Then, as the ‘apostle to the apostles’, as she is sometimes known, she rushes back to the upper room (scene of the last supper), to tell the others that she has ‘seen the Lord’ (John 20:18).
Many people cannot attend funerals or visit graves today.
Closeted against an unseen threat
Mary left the disciples closeted in their fearful self-incarceration. Their master, teacher and friend has been brutally killed and they wonder who will be next.
They are hiding from an unseen, unpredictable, indiscriminate, deadly threat. For their own good and that of others, they are not stepping outside. They have no idea how long they should isolate like this, and they have no ‘exit strategy’ for ending their self-isolation together.
One wonders how these cooped-up Christians-to-be handled the emotional and spiritual pressure that weighed oppressively in that room on Easter Day. Judas was gone – did they yet know he had committed suicide (Matthew 27:3-10)? Peter was no doubt in a ‘bad place’, having disowned Jesus a few days ago (Matthew 26:69-75). Thomas was having none of it. Was his a lone, questioning voice in that crowded room near the empty tomb? Where had he been when Jesus first appeared: had he braved the lockdown to go and get supplies?
Our stadiums, churches and shopping centres are empty, as empty as the tomb on the third day. Where has everyone gone? We are in our homes, fearful of an unseen enemy, wondering when it will end and hoping for some good news. We are worried about ourselves and our loved ones. Some are in the isolation of grief as others die. Hundreds of people are dying every day. Let us remember them in our prayers.
For, as Christians, we have a job to do at this time.
In the meantime we can infect others with faith, hope and love at huge distances, through walls and behind closed doors.
Gordon Giles will soon be taking up the post of Canon Chancellor at Rochester Cathedral.