“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”John 13:34
Here is the latest briefing from Bishop Keith…
This is going to be a Holy week and Easter like no other. To be isolated from one another when we will crave fellowship is truly awful. To be absent from the remembrance of the Lord’s supper, to be absent from the worship at the Cross on Good Friday, to be absent from the great celebration and the Easter Acclamation, “The Lord is risen; He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”, will be strange indeed.
At one level this absence will be a huge loss. At another level the absence will be a moment in which the Lord speaks. How keenly we will feel the Lord’s own isolation through betrayal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion. We will taste a very little of what it was like to be deprived of your closest friends at your moment of greatest need. Please God none of us will want to echo the cry of dereliction from the cross, “My God my God why have you forsaken me?”. All of this Jesus did for us, as the beautiful Good Friday Hymn says, “We believe it was for us he hung and suffered there”; his death a bearing of our judgement, his death a taking away of our sins, his death a bringing to us of forgiveness, his death an experiencing of death so that he might destroy its power.
All of this we will remember whether in our own reading and prayer, or as we access our local services online if we can, or the Cathedral or national services as we are able. In a time when there will be no gatherings and no socialising, only continued concern because of the Covid-19 virus and its impact on the whole world, we will be praying for the NHS and all those on the front line, we will be praying for those we know who are sick or bereaved, we will be praying for those facing the possibility of death. And as we pray for our own country, we will be praying for those countries we know, especially the Solomon Islands (also struggling with cyclones) and the Congo (Aru and Boga are also struggling with the absence of an infrastructure we take for granted).
It may be strange to offer now a verse that comes in the readings set for Morning Prayer in the week following Easter Sunday – who knows what that week will bring? Will there be some capacity for there to be some kind of “holiday at home”? I hope so – but this verse comes near the end of one of the great chapters in the Bible on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15. I hope each day, at the moment, all of us can include some reading from the Bible and prayer. During that week after Easter, the readings from this chapter are spread out over each day (Monday v1-11; Tuesday v12-19; Wednesday v20-28; Thursday v 29-34; Friday v35-50; Saturday v 51-end).
The verse I offer you, both for this week and next, is 1 Corinthians 15:49:
“Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust so we will bear the image of the man of heaven”
Last year I spoke on this verse at an Easter Assembly at Woodchurch C of E Academy on the Wirral. I asked them to notice that the verse doesn’t say we may or might bear the image of the man of heaven, but we will.
This is our hope and joy this Easter. We know, I think, about bearing the image of the man of dust; our mortality, our frailty, our sinfulness, these are all included in this description. How can we not know that reality in our present crisis?
But the hope that the Church has held out to the world since that first Good Friday and Easter, is that just because Jesus went all the way to the cross alone, and to the depths of death, experiencing it in the fullest form of its cruelty and desolation, we now would be in no doubt that his resurrection life would be ours too, begun now and completed then – bearing the image of the man of heaven, Jesus himself.
What a hope? What a promise? What a word for those facing their own death or the death of someone so dear to them?
We may be isolated from one another, but we are never isolated from him. As 1 Corinthians 15 goes on to say, “Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. (55,56)
This is the truth summarised in the great Easter acclamation: “The Lord is risen; he is risen indeed. Alleluia!”
This Easter Sunday, whether in the evening when we maybe lighting a candle and putting it in the window or at some other time in the day, may we find a way of sharing this greeting with our neighbourhood; perhaps by some post on Facebook, or some recording on YouTube, or creating some poster in the window, or seeing if any of your neighbours might like to join you on each of your doorsteps as you join in the joyful shout together! You might want to join in the chorus of a great Easter hymn: “Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son; endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won”.
This Easter and Holy Week will be like none that I have ever known; but yet somehow the very isolation and danger we are now in from this virus, I believe will enable us to enter yet more fully into the truth and the victory Jesus has established for us and for the world.
With love in Him