Resurrection Life in the Midst of the Pandemic
Message from Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey
“Christ is risen! Christ is risen in-deed!”
Here we are: a year and some months into the global Covid-19 pandemic. The shock of it has mostly worn off, as we are in varying ways trying to adjust to this shifting new reality. The impact, the disclosure of various inequities, the death, the grief, the vaccine controversies, etc. all still consume our attention. In this pandemic moment, there have been heroic achievements as well as tragic and violent outcomes. As people of faith we are provoked to ask: Where is God in this? and, What is the invitation?
Many decades ago when I was undertaking my seminary studies at the Vancouver School of Theology, Helmut Thielicke was one of the theologians to whom I was drawn. He sought to make theology accessible to all and was particularly concerned about ethics. He was a passionate German preacher, scholar and conscientious opponent of Hitler and his political project. However, it was not only his courage, his theology and his stance against hate and violence that engaged me, but also the tragedies of his life which gave rise to his understanding of God and of hope.
For opposing Hitler, Thielicke lost his university positions, was always under the threat of imprisonment and was repeatedly subjected to humiliating interrogations by the SS. One day, as the war was coming to an end, he walked to his Church in Stuttgart and found it bombed to pieces. Then as he made his way home, he was traumatized over the discovery that his house had been destroyed and there in front of him were his desperately hungry little children licking the pictures of food in recipe books. In the midst of all this Thielicke stood week after week in his bombed out church praying for his demoralized congregation and preaching to them of hope in God. On one such occasion he told them: “The one fixed pole in all the bewildering confusion is the faithfulness and dependability of God.”
The bold testimony of Resurrection Sunday (Easter) is that God is indeed faithful and dependable. This is the God who is smack dab in the midst of our pandemic suffering and our pandemic recovery. There is no Easter without Good Friday. Jesus experienced the violence, suffering, grief, rejection and death by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman regime. God does not stand apart observing the wrong and the suffering and the inequities of life. In the fleshly life of Jesus, God experiences all of this. On the cross, Jesus takes on all the sin, all the violence, all the rejection, all the pain and suffering, all the death, and dares to entrust it all, including his life, into the “faithfulness and dependability of God”. On the cross Jesus surrenders it all to God by saying: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46).
God raising of Jesus from the dead is arguably the signature moment of the Christian story. It is both an audacious witness to God’s power and trustworthiness and a solicitous call to confidently surrender every detail of our lives to God.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also
received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with
the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the
third day in accordance with the scriptures…But if there is no
resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if
Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and
our faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:3,4,13,14)
In speaking of Jesus coming to live as one of us, the Christmas carol proclaims, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight”. It is the Easter event that provides the context for experiencing and making sense of what this really means. The invitation is for us to hope; and not a general wishful hope, but specifically to hope in God.
We all have hopes. We hope to live lives of significance; we hope to be loved and to love; we hope to make a difference in the world; we hope for lasting joy; we hope to survive this pandemic; we hope that our suffering and the suffering of the world won’t last, and perhaps may even mean something; we hope to live in peace and for all to have what they need; we hope for justice; we hope that each one is special and that indeed all of our lives do indeed matter….we have hopes!
The truth is, we also have fears; lots of real fears. In our present context, we fear what lasting impact the pandemic might have. We also have a host of other fears. How will we recover from Covid-19? We fear death, we fear that we will not be accepted, we fear that life may not have meaning, we fear for the lives of those we love, we fear for the annihilation of our planet through climate change, we fear that our attempts at love will be rejected. We all have fears.
Easter embraces us and our hopes and desires, our fears and insecurities, and points us to the life, teachings, example, experience, death and resurrection of Jesus. Easter whispers into our ears and hearts and minds and bodies: “You see all those fears, insecurities, desires and hopes you have? Jesus knows them all, he understands them and even more, understands the places in you from which they come. And not only in you but in all people for all time. Just pay attention to what Jesus said and is still saying, how he treated people, the spiritual disciplines he practiced, the kind of relationship with God he cultivated in prayer, the dimensions of God he revealed, the love and compassion and justice he enacted, the warnings and judgments he issued and the grace and forgiveness he abundantly pours out. When you keep on doing this with a worshipping community of people in faith, you will discover what needs to be let go, what needs to be kindled and grown, what sin to confess, what priorities to cultivate, what justice to seek, what peace to receive and make in the world, what life to live, what spiritual gifts you have been given and how to deploy them in ways that bless the world. In short, you will be engaging in resurrection living.”
Easter takes utterly seriously the power of death and the reality of violence and injustice. Jesus did not receive a fair trial, he suffered state violence through beatings, and he was crucified and did die. However, by raising Jesus from the dead, God proclaims that the powers of death, violence, sin, and injustice are no match for the power of God’s eternal, holy and vibrant life. The life, teachings, example, revelations and priorities that constituted Jesus’ life and witness, are in reality true and to be trusted, lived and proclaimed. This resurrected life of Jesus is intended for and indeed offered to all humanity.
Easter is less about discussing and conjecturing how resurrection actually works –although that has its place – and more about living with faith and hope and power in our own day and circumstances. Resurrection life releases us and resources us to be bold, loving, just and faithful in the times in which we live. Preacher Thielicke once said,
“Tell me how much you know of the suffering of your neighbours, and I will tell you how much you have loved them.” He also wrote, “…as a Christian I go down into this death with the complete confidence that I cannot remain therein, since I am one whom God has called by name and therefore I shall be called anew on God’s day. I am under the protection of the Resurrected one. I am not immortal, but I await my own resurrection.” (Death and Life, 1970)
A blessed Resurrection celebration to you all,