Where can we find hope this Easter?
Church services have moved online. The Palm Sunday rally has been replaced with a virtual event. As part of the 24 hour news cycle, people are glued to their various screens for guidance as to what to do.
We are surrounded by stories of COVID-19 casualties and legally barred from public gatherings. On the surface of it, these are strange times for the church to be promoting a message of hope.
Dr Michael Mawson is Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology & Ethics at United Theological College. He told Insights that Christian hope does not see the church escape from the world altogether, but rather promoting a message of hope within sometimes dark circumstances.
“As Christians our hope is always to be centred on the cross,” he said.
“Which means God’s presence and work in the midst of human suffering and difficulty. This is the place where we hold that God is most present and at work in the world.”
“And for us today, this means we find and cling to hope in the midst of things—that is, in all the messiness and suffering of COVID-19 and its impact. In other words, hope is never something that takes us outside of needing to grapple with what’s going on around us, and the new kinds of suffering (i.e. sickness, unemployment, loneliness, anxiety, etc.) that many of us are now encountering.”
Dr Mawson drew on one of his favourite theologians, Hans Ulrich, to explain.
“‘Christian hope is not about expecting another world, but rather an encounter with God himself in this world.’ So the question is how we have hope that God is present with us even in all that’s going on,” he said.
The church not being able to physically meet may itself offer a
timely reminder, Dr Mawson said, “that our faith and hope are ultimately in
Christ (i.e. the foundation and head of the church).”
“It is Christ alone who finally unites us as a community and body. And who unites us and holds us together even when we can’t physically be present for one another. So the experience of this Easter will indirectly testify to this truth.”
“Also, I guess our inability to be physically present with one another at Easter presses us deeper into holy Saturday, and the sense in which the seeming absence of Christ is also central the Easter story. So perhaps this year we’re getting a little more of a theology of the cross, and a little less of the resurrection and joy of Easter.”
In terms of how he is finding hope in his own life, Dr Mawson said that he was “mostly just trying to get through this like everyone else.”
“Practically, I’m finding hope in the slow rhythms of a more isolated life—of having more time with children (out of school), the chance to find new ways of working and teaching, and a heightened realisation that the future is not in my hands,” he said.
Other theologians share Dr Mawson’s view. Reflecting on ‘The Day Alone’, a chapter in Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together, United Theological College principal Rev. Peter Walker suggests that the experience of isolation that COVID-19 has brought may bring with it something of a silver lining.
“The spiritual fellowship of each of our local Christian communities still enfolds us, every day,” he writes.
“We may experience that spiritual fellowship in phone calls, prayer circles, and perhaps even live-streamed worship. Yet we are away from buildings, and meetings, and rosters, and orders of service. We are away from all that. But we are not away from God. In fact, we might be far enough away from routine to hear God afresh.”
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