AN EASTER MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT OF THE GWENT BAPTIST ASSOCIATION, THE REVD. DR SUZANNE ROBERTS.
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Normally, so much happens in Holy Week, perhaps beginning on Palm Sunday with the children’s’ excitement as they follow a real donkey along the road. Whether or not there are other meetings during the week, there will be communion on Maundy Thursday and perhaps a walk of witness behind a cross or a service on Good Friday, before we come to all the joyful celebrations on Easter Sunday. Either at sunrise or later in the day we hear again those wonderful words of joyful hope and assurance: “He is not here, He has risen.”
But there is an important day we may miss out. For the disciples it involved self-isolation – not from fear of disease but from the terror of anticipation that the authorities might do to them what they had done to Jesus. Fear compounded by the depths of their grief and by the seeming destruction of all their hopes for themselves and their nation. The life they had been used to for the previous three years had been turned upside-down, and the settled normality of being with Jesus had become anxious and fearful uncertainty. We cheat, in a way, by knowing the end of the story, but for them this new normality had no end in sight and the future seemed totally out of their control.
This present Coronavirus crisis may feel to us like a prolonged version of Easter Saturday; concern and anxiety, even fear, for ourselves, our families and friends – especially if they are in a frontline occupation – and for the future, national or in personal health and finance. We cannot at present see an end to this new normality nor how it will affect our lives in the weeks, maybe months ahead. It is a challenge to our faith – but is that a bad thing?
Faith unchallenged can lull us into a comfort zone which stagnates our spiritual growth. James calls us to “Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” It’s an old book, but in ‘God of Surprises’ Gerard Hughes writes: “Faith is entrusting ourselves to the mystery in which we are living, trusting that love is at the heart of it.” We are able to trust that love as we see it poured out for us as Jesus hangs on the cross: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. (1 John 3:16) – “And so we know AND RELY on the love God has for us.” (4:16) It is in that confidence in God’s love for all that we can pray; for ourselves and those we know who are grieving, ill or in any difficulty, for all those in health care and care homes, emergency services, shops and any other front-line setting.
Let us pray too for those unknown to us – those in the poorest parts of cities and countryside across the world who have no space to self-isolate, often no running water or soap to keep hands clean, and neither good health services nor financial fall-back. One hospital in Bangladesh has no ventilators and “two empty A4 plastic sleeves put through a laminator give a mask with the right thickness for protection”.
If it feels like Easter Saturday to us, remember it is into that despairing darkness that the words are spoken: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.” The disciples had no idea what the future would hold for them, but Jesus did and He would – and did – meet them there. We don’t know what lies ahead in our Galilee or what it will mean for us, but we can know for certain that Jesus knows and will meet us in that future, just as He is with us here and now and to the end of this age. In these difficulties we can find even greater joy in the promise of Easter Sunday, in the certain hope we have in the risen Jesus. May God help us to share that hope and joy that those living in anxious uncertainty may come to know the comfort and peace of the presence of the risen Jesus in their lives.
May God bless you with His comfort, strength, light and peace – a blessed and joyful Easter to you all.