This will surely go down as one of the more thought-provoking Easters for many years.
Of course, many in the older person category will remember other Easters that were out of the ordinary; some unique to Australia, others involving wartime experiences.
But this is different for one reason only – a virus pandemic which is indifferent to ethnicity, language, age, gender, culture etc. The human species is being confronted by something it cannot control or destroy. Not something humanity is comfortable with.
And in the process, our vulnerability and mortality is being exposed and our humanity is being revealed.
I’m not one for drawing long-shot connections or exploiting the moment for theological ends, but this experience has shifted the axis upon which the world has been spinning for quite some time. And it really has taken people by surprise. I read the papers. I watch the news. I listen to strangers talking. I listen to my adult children. And to my grandchildren when I can. And I’m hearing what I can only describe as a really odd sense of relief. I know it is an incredibly difficult time for so many people, but it’s as if most people in society have been forced to step off the treadmill and are rediscovering what its like to re-construct their lives. To reprioritise their values and objectives.
It’s like societies around the world have been compelled to go into a form detox. To be detoxed from all sorts of addictions that have held us in their grip for a long time.
And like any detox experience, we are going to have withdrawal symptoms. Crave for things. But the craving will pass and within a few weeks a fresh sense of reality will kick in.
And the temptation will always be there to pick them up again because the old reality feels preferable because we have grown comfortable with it.
But the new reality brings new life.
I think I could go as far as saying that it sounds and feels like we are all being offered some kind of reprieve. In fact, I was trying to describe it to a colleague in terms of a sabbatical; a very personal sabbatical.
I know that the word sabbatical is not very well known beyond the academic sphere where academics are encouraged to take a year or a term off to refresh themselves. Go and do some study of a different kind or a familiar kind. A pattern breaker so to speak.
But a personal sabbatical is more than just taking time off and not having to work ( even from home). It’s about, perhaps for the first time in a long while, taking power back over our lives. We’re not hurrying to complete a project, or meet a deadline. We’re not chasing the hours or filling them with endless activity. Our lives are not so full of stuff that there is no time to waste or to wait.
Perhaps we can use this opportunity to learn how to breathe again. To breathe properly, gently and deeply.
The Easter event is a culmination of a public ministry in which Jesus spent at least 3 years trying to get people in his time to repent – and I mean repent in the original sense of the word – to turn around, that is, to change direction. To press the reset button and pause long enough to register what was happening in their world. To recognise that people were suffering. That life was not very nice at all for lots of people. People were worrying about debts. Not earning enough to make ends meet. And to make matters worse, they felt outside of God’s compassion and love. Made to feel unworthy or unacceptable.
Jesus tried to tun all that around. He wanted people to experience freedom from all those things.
He wanted unscrupulous employers to treat workers better.
He wanted high-minded priests to treat the poor with gentleness and compassion
He wanted greedy investors and land-owners to change the way they did business.
He wanted the sick to find health
The hungry to have bread every day
The unloved to feel loved.
In essence he wanted people to change so that the world might change.
There is no other way.
I know this is an awful and tragic time, and I can imagine what it must be like to be worrying about the future or experience losing someone and not being able to mourn meaningfully. Or having to worry about children and how they are going to get through this time.
There is a dark side to all this, but we will get through this and hopefully resist returning to business as usual. There is a sunrise for every new day, and if we can see this period as a time of personal sabbatical. An opportunity to re-configure the future. An opportunity to repent in the original sense of the word. To turn around and go in a different direction.
You know, one can only imagine the enormous grief the disciples must have felt when Jesus died. Everything they hoped for came crashing down around them.
And then Mary. Faithful Mary of Magdala, along with Mary mother of James and Joanna. The only ones courageous enough to risk going to the tomb discover that Jesus was gone.
Why seek the living among the dead – is what they hear.
And thus begins the next phase of the Good News.
The followers of Jesus experience resurrection. They are re-born
I pray that around the world humanity will experience a genuine sense of resurrection out of this COVID 19 experience, and in every sense, be born afresh.