Easter hope never more needed
The world stands on the cusp of a time when it needs renewal like it perhaps never has before in this generation.
This Sunday, then, is a perfect occasion for reflecting on the meaning of Easter; hope; faith; and resurrection.
Nearly three million souls have been claimed by a global pandemic that has afflicted so many with sickness but so many more with poverty and need. It is our sincere wish that we open our hearts to those who are suffering around the world from this pandemic.
We make special mention of those who have been affected in Samoa.
Despite the disease’s comparative lack of presence in this country, many thousands have suffered severely from its deprivations.
The virus has still touched thousands of families’ lives, through no fault of their own, through poverty, through rising violence and through crime that has accompanied the complete devastation of our economy.
This East we are reminded especially of that most Christian of values: the exaltation for those who think of the poor.
Recent events have left many of us feeling wretched; that the miseries and misfortunes of the moment are unique with no end in sight.
But this Easter we should reflect on the history of Christendom and the many challenges that have been visited on our believers that have been met with grace but also resilience.
Perhaps most famously there was the 5th Century Justinian plague, which historians believe claimed as many as 200 million lives.
But it was earlier in the third Century the then-pagan Roman Empire was struck by the Plague of Cyprian, an event that claimed the lives of 5000 people a day in Rome that the Christian values of hope and charity shined.
We remember the way in which Christian believers confounded others by showing kindness to those who did not share their beliefs, in an empire that had only recently persecuted them systematically not a century earlier for maintaining faith in Jesus Christ.
The non-Christian Roman Emperor Julian was utterly perplexed, even enraged, by the display of the Christian value of selfishness in the face of mortal danger.
He complained bitterly of the “Galileans” ministering to sick people who were not of their own faith.
Of course, the original ethic of goodwill to all, inspired by the Biblical miracle of Jesus’ cleansing of the lepers has informed our faith’s response to epidemics through history.
It was in the 16th Century that Martin Luther famously wrote that Christian doctors should die at their posts at the peak of the black plague; that Christian governors not flee their districts and that pastors not abandon their flocks.
These examples remind us that ours is a religion built on sacrifice and when our fellow believers find themselves most in need, the highest duty of a Christian is charity.
But Easter is also, of course, about the second tenet of our faith and one that is more relevant now than it has ever been: redemption.
As we look to what might seem like a bleak future ahead of us, we should take comfort but also perspective in these examples of Christian resolve.
Things may indeed appear hopeless and have done for the past more than a year that the COVID-19 pandemic.
Doubtfulness is threaded throughout Christian theology and its teachings; it is the obverse of that other Christian value: faith.
When Jesus rose on Easter Sunday it was, famously, the cause of disbelief - even amongst his disciples.
It was Mary Magdalene who saw Jesus first and did not doubt his resurrection; she had been unwavering.
The internal struggle between faith and doubt, with which we all struggle in all our personal journeys, is perhaps best exemplified on Easter Sunday.
We are all too familiar with the incredulous Thomas who refused to believe that the Son of God had risen again until he demanded to see his crucifixion wounds.
But we often forget that doubts were not limited to just Thomas.
As the Gospel of Matthew says that when Jesus revealed himself to his disciples for the first time, some fell to worship but with the resurrected saviour himself standing before them many themselves doubted, too.
For many the tribulations of COVID-19 will be a test of their patience, resolve, and even at times faith.
But this Easter is a perfect time to pause for thought and remember the many before us who have doubted but been redeemed. and also that many more who have known the joy that only new life can bring.