Last Sunday we were treated to messages from Christian leaders. Their message amounted to stating that things would “never be the same” after this pandemic. The one thing upon which one can rely is that time changes things; things are “never the same,” anyway. What is lacking in them is a sense of agency; what part are Christians to play in this change that “must” come? When the Archbishop of Canterbury writes:
“After so much suffering, so much heroism from key workers and the NHS, so much effort, once this epidemic is conquered here and round the world, we cannot be content to go back to what was before as if all is normal.
“There needs to be a resurrection of our common life, something that links to the old, but is different and more beautiful.”
He speaks in hope, but in terms of that “something” that will link to the old, he is coy. By far the most useful commentary I read came from the Bishop of London, Rt Revd Sarah Mullally who wrote on her blog:
Easter reminds us that God has touched the world in Jesus Christ.
Touch is central to Jesus relationships. Filled with compassion Jesus reached out his hand and touched the leper, a women who has suffered a great deal with a bleeding disorder, came up behind Jesus and touched his cloak, Jesus took Jiraus’ daughter by the hand and said to their little girl get up, he took the man who could not speak or talk and put his figures into his mouth, he took the blind man by the hand and put his hands on him, people brought little children to him for him to touch, the betrayer kissed him, and there on the road to Emmaus in the breaking of bread the touch of the presence of Jesus made their hearts burn.
Touch brings reconciliation, reconciliation to a community and to God, it brings restoration of relationships and healing.
At a time when we are “social distancing” it is good to be reminded of this. The “something” in the Archbishop’s statement becomes the “someone” in the Bishop’s commentary. It is the Risen Christ who touches us. In Eliot’s words:
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year.Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time’s covenant.
As the Bishop put it:
In a sense we have no more or less than Mary for we like her have glimpsed the hopes of Easter – death does not have the last word. The promise of a new creation without pain and suffering.
Now hope is not blind optimism. It is with hope that we can with eyes open to see the suffering and yet believe in the future.
How to convey the message that that “hope” lies in Jesus is the question?
Perhaps the answer lies in the gaps? For the better part of half a century, mankind in the West has pursued pleasure and consumption as its goals, convinced that “happiness” lay down those routes. It has not proven to be the case. Happiness is always just over the next hill, and the grass is always greener on the side we have not yet trodden.
The promises set out by politicians have always been recognised as illusory by those of a conservative disposition; but even those on the left who have been looking for the next utopian visionary, seem to despair. Many young people, convinced that societies based on mass consumption are destroying the natural environment, protest on their hand-held devices and travel to demonstrate on the means of transport which exist to expedite mass consumption.
Down all these roads lies disillusion. Hope lies only in Christ. In the words of the Anglican General Confession:
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
It begins with penitence, it begins with the realisation that He loved us first. What follows will follow. Only then will we never be the same again. And until we are changed, things will stay the same.