Easter Day 2021 – A Short Reflection from the Archbishop
A reflection for Easter Sunday 2021 by the Archbishop Michael Jackson.
The reflection is based on: St John 20.1–18. St John 20.1: ‘Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb … ‘
The full text is below the video.
LENT AND HOLY WEEK AND EASTER
Walking with Jesus Christ on the road to a new reality
SHORT REFLECTION FOR EASTER DAY 2021
based on: St John 20.1–18
St John 20.1: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb …
The Gospel Reading that we associate first and foremost with Easter Day is an extended account of the early responses to The Resurrection. It is the testimony of what today we call: Early Adopters. As is the case with all Scripture, it is written after the event and to a specific purpose of building up the faithful in their faith. As is the case with many early responses to momentous events, we who have the advantageous hindsight of history may regard the responses to resurrection we see before us in St John 20 as open to being described in any of the following ways: gauche, naïve, disappointing or incoherent. We may need to be a little bit more understanding of two things. The first is that there is an honesty of first steps. The second is that there is a theological purpose. And this is entirely consistent with what I said earlier about the purpose of building up the faithful in the faith. We, each and every one, need to take our first steps of faith, and perhaps more than once in a lifetime we need to start again, all over again. We also need to work out what is the theological purpose of it all for us, as best we can and without being afraid of the very word theology, as if it does not belong to us but to others.
So, what are these early responses and how can they help us today in building up our own picture of faith as being grounded and centred in the things unseen, as we find in The Letter to The Hebrews 11.1: Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see?
Mary Magdalene responds in a combination of personal fear and communal loyalty; she sees no body and then she goes to tell the two disciples that they have taken the Lord out of the tomb and her innocence, both in herself and in them, is voiced in the word: they.
The two disciples react out of ignorance but somehow manage to pull each other through by a teamwork of ignorance. (There is such a thing!) But, like many men, then as now, they are incapable of doing anything with the new information. As St John says: Then the disciples returned to their homes. The matter is just left there. ‘End of’ as people say.
Mary returns and remains and, by expressing her fragility and her humanity in weeping, receives the greatest revelation of them all. Great but costly: and how could it be otherwise? After all, this is resurrection from the dead we are talking about. In her we see the change, the transition from knowledge as she knew it to knowledge as God reveals it afresh. The new knowledge brings the added cost that is something like this: although she knows him, she cannot touch him because there is a further stage in this process of resurrection, revelation and responsibility and it is called ascension. Mary, however, is made of sterner stuff than the men. She does not go home and boil the pre–theological kettle for a cup of tea. She goes straight and tells the disciples, all of them, obedient as indeed she is to the old Teacher, still the Teacher but now the new Teacher: I have seen the Lord. And there is no sign that they doubt her. How dare they?
What can we on Easter Day 2021 learn from this long–drawn–out chapter of St John’s Gospel? The first thing is that it is an internal conversation. The church and the churches are far too keen on internal conversations. Internal conversations are simply not sufficient. The conversation needs to turn outwards. Easter is but part of the total story. Pentecost is the next stage where community and values begin to interact with cultures that are external rather than internal. The second thing is that the church which will emerge from these early encounters will have to find its place and make is way in a world which inevitably makes its own way without the church and has little interest in its internal workings or preoccupations. The lingering memory of a time of triumphant influence, of the days of punching above our weight in our own head, is increasingly unhelpful both to self–understanding and to missional urgency. Christ is our mission, not us or more of us. The re–establishment of any sort of establishment mentality for churches in western society is a fantasy which will feed and accelerate no more than the implosion of capacity.
So, what are we to do in a time when the coronavirus is here to stay rather than ready to leave? at a time when the promise of early vaccination for all has turned out to be yet another version of leprechaun’s gold, it seems? I wonder how we ever thought the coronavirus was going to leave in the first instance. Our society has been on frozen for more than a year. Many of us are now pleading for the restrictions we once so vociferously and democratically resisted. One can only wonder if the earlier application of such restrictions might have changed our landscape for the better. But such musings are no more than a fantasy now. The year past has brought to the surface much fear, unending sadness and individual deaths one by one. The year past has also brought to the surface much self–righteousness, much blame of others and much non–compliance. Overall, it has taught us that the encouragement to do this for others does not work sufficiently with us as human beings. Self–interest has to play its part in our concern for others and this is a piece in the jigsaw that has been missing in reading the public mood on the part of the public influencers.
Those of us who continue by God’s grace to survive the coronavirus were given a rare and privileged insight into the 24/7/365 workings of one of our major university hospitals, Tallaght University Hospital. Screened in February 2021, it was a programme documenting The Third Wave in a part of Dublin that is no more than a journey of twenty–five minutes from this cathedral. I have no doubt that such work is replicated in the hospitals right across the land. In that documentary we did see the do this for others principle at work at every level of hospital life. Care combined compassion and professionalism. Care combined energy and exhaustion to come into work, to go yet again in the service of others on whom you had never set eyes before they were wheeled in from the fleet of ambulances waiting outside for the nod to open the hospital doors which invite in the waiting sick to care, attention, medicine and, in many cases, but tragically by no means all cases and individuals, recovery.
Wearing both my non–religious and my religious hats at the same time, I could see in sustained action and in rapid response an understanding of life in such service – both current life and future life – that connected me with what I as a Christian person call resurrection. This resurrection had nothing magical about it. It was painstaking. It was laborious. It was heart–breaking. It had no easy answers. But it was happening in the hands of human beings motivated by duty and by the do this for others principle, day in day out, night in night out. Their perspective was one of work. They simply did not have the time to interpret it as resurrection. And maybe we too, who are professional Christians, simply need to let it all happen rather than claiming it as an ecclesiastical event. But as I began to think towards Easter even in early–February and as I today hear The Easter Gospel, I see the tenacity and the testing and the trial and the learning at work in what the Public Health Experts have trained us to call hospital settings as a response of resurrection to human destitution, human tragedy, human ill–fortune.
Those of us who are on the outside of this excellence in places like Tallaght Hospital cannot but take inspiration from those who do what we cannot do. We cannot but try, through small steps, to do what we can do in our own person and in our own community in a spirit of resurrection now. Care, however understood, however interpreted, is a witness to life. So, surely, is The Resurrection, don’t you think?
St John 20.18: Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, I have seen the Lord; and she told them that he had said these things to her.