Christ our Passover:
It is true: we have not yet defeated Covid-19. It is likely to remain a threat for some years; but in the new vaccines we have now a potent weapon in the fight, and the more people are vaccinated, the greater safety each of us will enjoy, especially from the possibility of more lethal future mutations. So it is premature to relax all safeguards – about 70% of Americans have not yet received any shot, and no children under 16 – yet this year we have the gift of celebrating Easter in small groups, with safeguards. Our long Covid-19 Lent is drawing to a close. For which we give most hearty thanks! Both the disease itself and the protective measures against it have done great damage, in the lives lost (especially in nursing homes), but also to emotional health, to the education and socialization of children, to livelihoods, to culture and religion, and to the ties that bind. Now is indeed time for rebuilding as we come together again in community.
That’s a very appropriate thought for Easter; because in the commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection, we celebrate the restoration of our humanity, of our community with one another and with God, from the damage done by sin and death. This is true, and yet we must say more; it is too easy to think of Christ’s death and resurrection merely as an inspirational metaphor for our own self-generated recovery. Such happy talk fails to address the gravity of the harm that has been done by sin and death, and to acknowledge that the remedy comes from outside ourselves. We are much worse than we like to believe – “there is no health in us”; yet in Christ – dead, and yet alive – we are more loved than we dare think possible; and in that knowledge is our redemption.
Consider the disciples on Easter morning: shocked, demoralized, and miserable in their grief and guilt. The betrayal of Jesus by one of their own number; their panicked flight at his arrest; the utter collapse of Peter’s boasted fidelity, his threefold public disowning of Jesus, made with a commandment-breaking oath to God; and beyond their own failures, the calamity that had overcome Jesus, his condemnation as a false prophet by the Jews, and his horrific public degradation and execution by the Romans. After the hopes that he had raised had been so completely shattered, what future could there be for the disciples of Jesus? What future could there be for men who had so completely failed to foresee or meet the challenge of this crisis? What credibility could there be for the message they had proclaimed about Jesus, the coming of the Kingdom of God? And yet …the band of disciples does not dissolve and disappear, but goes from strength to strength, with a new spiritual vitality and clarity of purpose. There must be a cause adequate to explain such an effect; and the resurrection of Jesus is the most plausible contender: the vindication of Jesus beyond all challenge as Messiah and Son of God; and their own restoration to his fellowship and reinstatement in his mission. Despite their grievous failures, he loves them still; and their shattered illusions of tawdry ambition they abandon without regret. The door of new life that has been opened to them by his resurrection, admits them to a new world beyond all imagining, in the favor of God, in the kingdom and power of his Spirit. The basis for their new future is found not in themselves, but in Christ now risen in him and his victory do they find vitality and a new clarity of vision.
But make no mistake: the door that is opened to new life, is the gateway of his death. Only as we die with Christ can we enter into this new future with him. To embrace this future, we must leave behind our own tawdry ambitions, the pride, envy, anger, and despair, that prevents us from accepting reconciliation with God and with one another. As we seek to recover our community from the harm done to it by Covid-19, let us do so on this basis. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed; therefore let us keep the feast; not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”.
This essay was published in the St. John’s Parish Paper for Sunday, March 28, 2021. The illustration of the thorn of crowns is courtesy of our talented parishioner, Mick McCay. If you have questions or topics for a featured story, please send them to Rector Gavin Dunbar.