The Bible Reading Fellowship Enabling all ages to grow in faith

Easter people in lockdown

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.

A door with arrow brackets

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.

A man looking at a light

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.

The promise of the empty tomb

Jesus has burst the ‘three-day prison’ of the grave, leaving a tomb emptier than our streets. This is our faith and our hope. Others have lived and died through more challenging times than this, which is not to say the emotional, spiritual and physical challenges and privations are not significant. But with an Easter faith to celebrate, we are the lucky ones. The empty tomb gives us hope to pray for the time when we can fling wide our doors and share our faith again with those whom we can see and touch.

Jesus breaks through the lockdown

Meantime, we remember what happened on that Easter Day: Jesus came behind lockdown doors and offered the disciples peace and hope (John 20:19). He showed them the marks of passion which proved his resurrection, but like Mary in the garden (John 20:17), they did not touch him. Yet when he returned he invited Thomas to touch and hold Jesus. The time was right.

It is important to be able to touch and hold others, their bodily presence is as important as emotional and spiritual presence. In the faith, hope and love the risen Christ gives us, we have all three: spiritual faith, emotional hope and loving touch. These three abide, and they abide, as the risen Christ himself does, in us, with us and through us. The ability to touch others again will be restored.

In the meantime we can infect others with faith, hope and love at huge distances, through walls and behind closed doors.

The empty tomb gives us hope to pray for the time when we can fling wide our doors and share our faith again with those whom we can see and touch.

And there is an exit strategy: resurrection life. That is truly Good News for all of us, at home or out and about, inside or out, now and always. For the risen Christ is with us always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

 

So we are Easter people, and ‘Alleluia’ is our song.

Give us your Easter joy O Jesus, and while we are distanced from others, draw us close to you, that when the doors of our isolation are flung open, we may burst out into a world blossoming with resurrection hope, faith and love. Amen

Gordon Giles will soon be taking up the post of Canon Chancellor at Rochester Cathedral.