Easter 2020 - in a world of pandemic
This reflection covers Good Friday through to Easter Sunday. It poses some questions that you may like to stay and pray with. Principally, who is God on the cross and who is the human being in light of the cross and resurrection of Christ?
I hope you will find these reflections fruitful and that the God of Life will fill you this Easter.
When Jesus tells his companions, in the garden of Gethsemane, that he is ‘deeply, grieved, even to death’ (Matt 26.38) he is no doubt grieving for his own life and the terrifying ordeal that is awaiting him. However, his grief may also have been that he was so acutely conscious that human beings were about to torture and destroy, or at least attempt to destroy, truth and grace and beauty. His grief was for these human beings, perhaps more than for himself. That humanity is so capable of cruelty and wilful ignorance and self-interested violence against innocence is painfully obvious.
The context of the world we live in at present is that of a world in a global pandemic, accelerating climate change contributing to extreme events such as the recent drought and bushfires and a world in which there are 70 million people displaced by war and persecution and poverty. Many innocents are suffering.
Where is God? This is the cry Jesus made on the cross ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Where is God now? Who is God?
The great theologian Jurgen Moltmann, who was a prisoner of war in WWII, asks this question, as so many have throughout the ages. He writes:
‘To take up the theology of the cross today is to go beyond the limits of the doctrine of salvation and to inquire into the revolution needed in the concept of God. Who is God in the cross of the Christ who is abandoned by God?
The Cross challenged Jesus companions about their understanding of God. Today it continues to challenge our concepts of God. Many ask, who is God in this context? We must return to the cross for some answer.
On the cross God in Jesus suffers and dies. In our present time we see God precisely in those who may be suffering now: the lonely, those who may feel abandoned, those for whom there are not enough ventilators, those in refugee camps as the virus begins to take hold there. We see God suffering in creation. This may be a hard thing to believe given the triumphalist versions of God we have made. Some ask, if God is all powerful then why doesn’t God intervene to stop this virus? And so much other suffering. We must understand the power of God in very different terms. Divine power is the power to continue loving despite suffering; to continue to care despite apathy; to continue to hope despite what seems hopeless; to continue to act for justice and truth despite the powers of the world. The ‘foolishness’ of the cross is just this: that divine power is not the power of the ‘strong man’, the power of the world, but is rather that power of enduring Love and forgiveness even in the face of suffering and crisis.
Covid-19 comes hot on the heels of the bushfire crisis in our country. And no doubt the climate crisis will send more events on our way. These times have been described even in the popular media as apocalyptic. The word apocalyptic has to do with something being revealed. What is being revealed through these crises? And where and who is God in this? Many will be seeking the meaning in these events. We know the reason for much of them.
Disease ecologist Peter Darzak says:
“The virus’s original host was almost certainly a bat, as was the case with Ebola, SARS, MERS and lesser-known viruses such as Nipah and Marburg. HIV migrated to humans more than a century ago from a chimpanzee. Influenza A has jumped from wild birds to pigs to people. Rodents spread Lassa fever in West Africa.”
“But the problem is not the animals, according to scientists who study the zoonotic diseases that pass between animals and humans. It’s us.”
“A global wildlife trade worth billions of dollars, agricultural intensification, deforestation and urbanization are bringing people closer to animals, giving their viruses more of what they need to infect us: opportunity. Most fail. Some succeed on small scales. Very few, like SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus, triumph, aided by a supremely interconnected human population that can transport a pathogen around the world on a jet in mere hours. “
Human behaviour is the reason for many of our calamities. So, as significant as the question ‘Who is God?’ is, it also gives rise to the question ‘Who are we?’ What does it mean to be human? Are we growing in our humanity? The cross begs the same question. Who was this mob who condemned an innocent man to such an awful death?
Jurgen Moltmann again:
“To take the theology of the cross at the present day means to go beyond a concern for personal salvation, and to inquire about the liberation of humanity and our new relationship to the crisis in our society. Who is the true human in the sight of the Son of man who was rejected and rose again in the freedom of God?”
What is being revealed to us in these ‘apocalyptic’ times about who we are and where we are heading?
A central understanding of the Christian faith is that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. This is a paradox: the holding together of what seem to be opposites. We can’t quite get our head around it. But the Christian faith also suggests that we, sons and daughters of God, are also meant to grow in divinity. The incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth did not stop with his death. The risen Christ is present everywhere. Through the Spirit Christ becomes present throughout creation, in us. This incarnatio continua however can only grow to fullness when we give our assent to that growth within us. St Pauls conversion led him to say, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.’
After his death Jesus disciples were left utterly bereft. They thought he was the messiah, the ‘strong man’ who would overthrow their oppressors. Their religious understanding was completely disoriented. Then on Easter Sunday some of them began to encounter him in a new way. Those encounters with the Risen Christ were so powerful that they transfigured (changed the perception) of many. They were confronted by a new understanding of who God is. And this new perception changed their understanding of themselves. Their fear and confusion fell away. They grew in their humanity. They founded communities of love and spoke truth to power.
Who is God in the cross of the Christ who is abandoned by God?
Who is the true human in the sight of the Son of Man who was rejected and rose again in the freedom of God?”
We might each continue to prayerfully ask those questions for ourselves.
For me the two questions are simply the two sides of the same coin. We are free in God, made free by the God who cannot be contained by death; who in weakness is strong; who loves beyond measure; who even when rejected is free to rise again; who for-gives, gives God’s very self for us, that we may come to know the fullness of our humanity. The world will be saved when we allow God to live more and more through us. Truth and Grace and Beauty cannot be ultimately destroyed. Christ is Risen. Amen.
Easter blessings to all as we celebrate the reality of the Risen Christ wherever we are at this time. Peace be with you.
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THE BALANCE POINT
The Assistant Priest, Rev'd Rebecca Newland, has a weekly blog where she reflects on spiritual disciplines including the practise of silence and contemplative living. She also occasionally writes about social, environmental and political issues. For those who are interested please click on this link below: