For the first time in living memory, and hopefully the last, we are celebrating Easter in dispersion. This feels really disorientating. The weather outside is exceptionally beautiful, spring is now in full swing, overflowing with the signs of new life accompanied by the sound of birdsong. We would be forgiven for thinking that everything is fine and that life can carry on as normal.
However, nothing is fine, and nothing is normal. Many more people are getting infected with the coronavirus, well over 100 thousand people throughout the world have already died because of it (nearly 10,000 in the UK alone), and we are all doing our best to follow the rules of social distancing. Most of the activities we enjoy have stopped, and we are waiting for the pandemic to ease so that we can be out and about once again working, and seeing our families and friends.
We are waiting for the world we miss so much to come back to life again. We are waiting for the resurrection. It is in this state of waiting that we are today celebrating the feast of all feasts, the Resurrection of Our Lord. It is in the midst of a world of anxiety and fear that the hope of resurrection to eternal life is being proclaimed to us and all people:
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!
(Eastern Orthodox Liturgy)
Does this mean that there is no more death, that we can be somehow oblivious to what’s happening around us? No, the hope of our faith is neither a utopian illusion, nor a deception. Rather, it is a conviction that God is with us in both our life and in our death. In his Son, our Saviour and brother, Jesus Christ, God knows what it means to live a human life, what it means to be surrounded by the darkness of evil, and what it means to die.
The Son of God, who suffered and was crucified for us, experienced death just as we do. More than that, he experienced a kind of death none of us would ever want to or ever should go through. Although he was without sin, he suffered as if he was a criminal: nailed to the cross, and abandoned by almost everyone but his mother and a few of his closest friends.
His death, however, is not something to lament over but something to give thanks to God for. St Paul reminds us why, when he writes, ‘Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God’ (Col 3.2-3). This is not an invitation to walk with one’s head in the clouds and do nothing about what’s happening around us. Quite the opposite. It is a reminder that in our Baptism, we have already died: we have died to sin, to despair, and to fear.
Baptism gives us freedom to live our lives in the hope of the Risen Christ. If taken seriously, it can change absolutely everything about the way in which we see ourselves and others around us. ‘For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God’ - what an astonishing statement that is. In Baptism God invites you and me to live with him, to go to the places God goes and to walk the paths God walks, while we are still awaiting the second coming of Our Lord.
Yes, we are still waiting for the Risen Christ to come again and to renew the face of this earth. Our promise is a glorious one: ‘When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory’ (Col 3.4). We don’t need to be afraid of the Risen Christ coming to us. All we need to do is to welcome him in a spirit of trust. But in the meantime, we are waiting. We are waiting for Christ to return, and we are waiting for the virus to be put under control and eventually to go away and stop ruining our world.
Jesus was no stranger to waiting. This is was this often forgotten day, Holy Saturday, is about - waiting. Many of us have a problem with waiting. I, for one, don’t like it. I know the value of it but it pains me when I am forced to wait. Waiting often seems like a waste of time. But is it? Isn’t it rather a time of preparation, an opportunity to go deeper into one’s heart to examine one’s motivations and hopes?
Let’s look at what Jesus does as he is waiting for the resurrection. Jesus’ waiting is not idle. On Holy Saturday, he descends into hell and rescues our ancestors who have been waiting for their redemption. While the dead body of Jesus is resting in the tomb, he descends into the realm of the dead to proclaim to Adam and Eve that they are no longer trapped in the shackles of death but are free to live forever with God who is the source of all life. On the surface of things, it may seem as if nothing is happening, but in fact, on Holy Saturday, hell is harrowed by Christ and Satan loses the war.
Our waiting for a better, more normal, world to come shouldn’t be idle either. Our waiting, our Holy Saturday, may be longer than we would like. It may even be, and is, encroaching on the happiness of Easter. But even in this difficult and anxious waiting that has been forced upon us by the pandemic our lives are hidden with Christ in God. We are not waiting alone. Christ is waiting with us, and we are called to wait with those for whom this waiting is unbearable.
It is now often said that we should not be doing one thing or the other unless it is essential. Well, waiting is essential, just as is patience. Christ didn’t come down from the cross, neither was he raised from the dead straight away. He waited in the darkness and in the shadow of death alongside many others who were already there. We too are called to wait alongside one another before the resurrection comes. We are called to be present where God is present and that includes the most desperate of all places.
During this unusual and incredibly difficult Easter, let us share the light of the Risen Christ with one another through the discipline of waiting together. As we wait for the resurrection of our world, let us never neglect the two essential activities of our lives as disciples of Jesus: prayer and service.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!