Centre Director Angus Ritchie reflects on the celebration of Holy Week and Easter in the midst of the Coronavirus lockdown.
The last two weeks have been a bewildering and frenetic time for Christian leaders. The worship, pastoral care and community engagement of local churches is needed more than ever – and the challenges of moving it rapidly to telephone and computer have been immense.
In the next fortnight, congregations and their leaders will face an even more emotionally challenging context. As this insightful blog explains, communal responses to tragedies typically begin with a phase which is “full of energy and self-sacrifice.” After a time, this initial energy typically wanes, and communities move into a “disillusionment phase” which may contain “much mutual blame and suspicion.” For us, the likely context for this disillusionment is (at least initially) a continuing rise in infection and in deaths.
The celebration of Holy Week therefore comes at the moment when it is most urgently needed. For in the reality of our daily life, we will be brought to the foot of the Cross, and our observance can teach us to find afresh in it the source of life and hope.
Our culture cannot bear the reality of vulnerability and death. This is why it is so keen to keep people who are disabled and elderly out of view, or to remove them altogether through abortion and euthanasia. By contrast, the Paschal mystery proclaims that it is in the lives that are most vulnerable that we see most clearly the face of Jesus Christ.
Those who understood Jesus best in the first Holy Week were those who had least in the way of worldly status, and who knew the reality of limitation, pain and loss. It is to such people that the wider community now needs to turn for wisdom – to those who have lived for years with solitude, those who have endured hardship and indeed tragedy, and have known in these experiences the presence and solidarity of their crucified and risen Saviour.
They can teach the rest of us how to abide, like the women and the beloved disciple, at the foot of the Cross. And they can help us to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection faithfully – not as an evasion of this world’s pain, but as the revelation of God’s true nature. For the One we now hail as “my Lord and my God” still bears his wounds, in his own person and in the life of his Body the Church.
The politics which Jesus enacts in Holy Week – processing into Jerusalem on a donkey, cleansing the temple, and being handed over to death – makes visible within human history a new order of life. It is an order which speaks truth in the face of empires built on violence and lies, and is willing to endure that violence and falsehood without responding in kind. But this order will not be made complete within our current age.
The same is true of Jesus’ earlier miracles. His healings do not herald an end to all illness, and the two men he raises from the dead will die again. They miracles are signs of a new creation; a glimpse in the “now” of something that will only be fulfilled in the life to come.
“If Christ has not been raised,” says St Paul, “then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” Our acts of worship, mutual care and community organising may at times seem overwhelmed by the scale of the pandemic. But they bear witness to an order of life that, in Christ, will have the final victory.