There is no getting around the fact that this will be a very strange Eastertide. For us as a church, Holy Week and Easter should be the pinnacle of our annual journey in faith and Easter Sunday a day of celebration and festivity. Alas, the measures we must take this year to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus mean that we will not be able to gather together to trace Christ’s steps on the road to Calvary this year. More challenging still, we will not be able to share in the Eucharist on Easter Sunday morning. It feels as though our Lenten fast has been extended for an indeterminate period. Many among us at St Giles, and in the wider church, will no doubt feel this to be a great unfairness.
At such a time as this, it can be difficult to know what to do for the best. On television we see how our political leaders struggle daily to balance the competing demands of preserving public health, protecting the national economy and maintaining individual liberties. Our own leaders within the Church of England have also been forced to make the unenviable decision to close churches in order to meet the challenges of this crisis. To “do what you think is best” has become a glib truism in these days; yet, what we are all really being asked to do is to take regular “leaps of faith”, acting as conscience guides us and trusting that this will prove eventually to have been the correct course.
At the start of the interregnum at St Giles, we asked you to step into the unknown as our parish community travels towards a new chapter in its history. We have now arrived at Easter. In a liturgical sense, the purpose of a journey we could only perceive dimly at New Year is much clearer now. Christ’s ultimate sacrifice upon the cross fulfils the mysterious promises of Advent and Christmas – the darkness has been replaced by glorious light. But we can’t help but be struck, reading the scriptures appointed for this time, how much uncertainty remains. The Book of Exodus, from which we have read in recent weeks, is full of Moses’ doubt and uncertainty: ‘Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice.’ We see this same uncertainty in the reaction of the disciples to Christ’s first appearances to them during Easter Week – they were “terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit”. Similarly, the disciples who met Christ on the road to Emmaus talked to him at length without recognising him. And, of course, we are drawn to the confusion and anguish of Mary Magdalene and the other disciples who went to the tomb on the first day of the week but found it empty.
Others in the story of these days are full of certainty. Those who condemn Mary of Bethany for anointing Christ’s head are convinced of their righteousness, as are the crowds who cry out for Christ’s crucifixion. Pilate, meanwhile, who was so keen to avoid personal responsibility, lent instead on the certainty that whatever decision was expedient for him was the right one. Yet, time and again at this pivotal moment in our collective journey we are reminded that the correct response to confusion and uncertainty is not to fall back on what we perceive to be self-evident truths. Rather than reject that which is difficult to accept, Easter is the ultimate imperative for us to take a leap of faith and trust in God’s loving kindness. We have no insight into why Mary breaks the ointment jar to anoint Jesus, but she does it and it is right: 'She has done what she could', we are told. And the disciples in the garden on Easter morning, believe even when they do not know why or how to believe: ‘Then went in also that other disciple which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the Scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.’
None of this is easy. Indeed, like so much about our present time, it is confusing, unsettling, confounding. But in grappling with it, we have an extraordinary promise - that the reward for faith is a living relationship with God and access to the gifts of his grace and providence. As we face the coming time, these are gifts we can all pray for.
May we wish you the very best for this coming Easter and pray that we will all be reunited at St Giles in the near future.
Wil James & Oliver Flory