Easter 2020: Encountering the living Christ beyond known boundaries
This year, for the first time perhaps ever, Easter is celebrated in our virtually empty cathedral and in many churches around the world. Of course, we all hope that this strange phenomenon is only temporary and once the coronavirus crisis is over, we will be able to gather and to do things the way we did before.
While we yearn for familiarity and security, we must not allow ourselves to be unmoved by the signs of the times. We must discern what the Holy Spirit is saying and seize this moment as a kairos, an opportune moment to seek the will of God for us in a world that is being radically transformed before our eyes.
Pope Francis did this when he appeared alone at St Peter’s Square last week. He said the pandemic uncovers our false certainties around which we construct our projects, habits and priorities. When carry these things on without regard for the poor, the afflicted and the ailing planet, the consequences can only be destructive. When we are out of touch with the natural world and our spiritual roots, we deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.
This crisis, in other words, is a symptom of a deeper malaise, a sign that we have alienated ourselves from the God of life and love; that we have become dull to the cry of God’s poor and the cry of God’s creation. Therefore, it is an opportunity for us to recognise our own sinfulness that contributes to the suffering of Body of Christ, now, at this moment, in the poor, the dispossessed, the marginalised and our wounded Mother Earth. It is a kairos for us to further God’s restorative justice in the world.
But this crisis also has significance for the way we are being Church moving forward. I cannot help but wonder whether the time of empty and closed churches is not some kind of cautionary vision of what might happen in a not distant future. This is what it could look like in years to come. Certainly, as tourists you would have seen many churches in Europe being reduced to near empty and in some instances repurposed for communal usage.
Some might see this as a sign of religious decay or even moral decadence. Others would suggest that we are at a threshold of an emerging Christianity, which is not confined to ornate cathedrals or churches, convents and monasteries.
The Gospel tonight speaks of the bewilderment and disillusionment of the disciples as they were confronted with an empty tomb. They were reassured that this was not a dead end and that Jesus had risen and had gone ahead of them to Galilee. A question to stimulate meditation for this strange Easter: Where is the Galilee of today or where we can encounter the risen Christ?
Galilee is emblematic of Jesus’ radical, inclusive and boundary-breaking mission. It is where he healed the sick, championed the cause of the oppressed and transformed lives.
We must learn to broaden radically the boundaries of our understanding of the church. Pope Francis famously commented a passage from the Book of Revelation in which Jesus stands before the door and knocks. The Pope said: “Today Christ is knocking from inside the church and wants to get out.”
We encounter the living Christ, therefore, beyond the known boundaries of our worldview and the safe moorings of the past. We meet him as a community of seekers of truth, meaning and ultimate concern. More importantly, we witness to him in our acts of solidarity, communion and love.
Brothers and sisters,
Let us embrace this Easter as a challenge to seek Christ anew. Let us not seek the living among the dead. Let us seek him boldly and tenaciously, and let us not be taken aback if he appears to us as a foreigner, a stranger or an outsider.
We will recognise him by his wounds, by his voice when he speaks to us intimately, by the Spirit that brings peace and banishes fear.
Let Easter get into us. Let Easter come and live where we live. Let Easter permeate our souls. Let Him Easter in us, and be “a dayspring to the dimness of us”.
In this holy season of Easter 2020, may we all allow the Risen Jesus to ‘Easter in us’!
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv
Bishop of Parramatta