8th April 2022
We have come through an elongated winter and emerged into an unfolding spring. We are also
coming through Covid-19. Many of us bear the scars of illness, bereavement, dislocation from
ourselves and from others, along with a never-ending exhaustion. Much of this we have recognized only when what has seemed to be the worst of Covid-19 to date has receded. Others of us are terrified to leave behind the familiarity of our own homes and experience greater and greater anxiety because of the escalating cost of living. There is no going back to where we were before Covid-19. Post-Covid is not Pre-Covid replayed. It is not possible to deny experiences that are real and tangible. They happened. What we had to do, we did. There are no two ways about it. Many, many people did much more than they ever thought they could. I congratulate every one of you on your commitment and your compassion and your concern for others. I am immensely proud of what you have done, and done instinctively. However, there needs to be a way of moving forward into a new space in the same world, into a new picture in the same frame. The world and the frame are not of our making; the space and the picture are ours to shape confidently and to inhabit wisely. This is the opportunity that we have been waiting for, that we need to take and that we have to grasp – not impetuously - but we need to want to try it and we need to try to want it.
All of us who have endured this pandemic owe it to ourselves and to those who have seen us through to today, to contribute and to make the difference that all of us can make in this unfolding spring. While the Season of Holy Week and of Easter does not, nor can it, speak to all of us in the Ireland of today, because of our diversity in culture and in faith and in inheritance, there are messages embedded in the Christian narrative that can, I suggest, reflect into our society and into our state of mind. This is irrespective of our personal convictions, whether we believe in anything divine or in anyone divine, and irrespective of whether we are younger or older. But it may enrich the human and the social understanding of every one of us. My purpose is not to strip away any of the specific content of what is called The Passion and The Easter Story from the belief-system of those who are Christian people. It is, rather, to let the Christian narrative ripple into the life of humanity more generally and to highlight threads and themes that connect people of every age with one another in the range of our dynamic diversity. They do this because human predictability, in its actions and in its reactions, lies at the heart of this narrative every bit as much as does any specific religious interpretation.
And so, what I want to do is to outline some of the pictures of human action and reaction that the
concentrated timeframe from Holy Week to Easter charts. The first of these would seem to me to be crowds and spectacle. This is seen on what is called Palm Sunday when Jesus enters Jerusalem for a specific purpose, to die. A spectacle draws a crowd. A spectacle can hold a crowd. But to do so it needs to be thrilling. A crowd has its own logic and its own chaos all at the same time. Both The Passion and The Resurrection seem, on Biblical evidence, to have been neither spectacular nor thrilling. There was no more than a handful of people gathered at the foot of the cross and no more than two handfuls of people gathered in fear on the evening of the resurrection itself. Abandonment is closer to what the record of both tells. This may surprize many. Maybe from this we can learn that, while we all love the spectacle, it is not always where good things start or even where the best of things happen. We need to develop our own discernment, our own judgement and make our own decisions. Frequently, it is the development of ourselves, of ideas and of relationships that makes the difference in understanding or misunderstanding what really is going on.
This is worth it for any of us. Anyone reading this narrative will see the swing from crowds and spectacle to individual and aloneness. There are many points at which Jesus finds himself to be a very lone person. If you read this story through that lens, you can see a number of things that matters every bit as much to you in your own life today. In a world almost saturated with communications, more and more people are experiencing acute aloneness. Conviction is what motivates people. Conviction connects us with big words like justice and ecology, strategy and policy. But conviction also alienates us from other people who do not share our own particular conviction at any particular time. Conviction can breed conflict just as easily as it can build harmony. Conviction on its own can suddenly find that it is running on empty. It needs to be prepared for this. Some of you will have found yourselves in situations of this sort your lives through. Others of you will have all of this still ahead of you. Jesus is alone at the pivotal points where transformative things happen through him, to him and to others.
Jesus is alone when things change radically. We can take courage, if not comfort, from this as it is the way in which human relations often still work. The power of suffering and the impact of transformation hit us forcefully in this narrative. Suffering is a word made up of many different threads. Suffering is a word and an experience of silence as well as of noise. Suffering frequently is the outcome of intense cruelty visited on the vulnerable and the defenseless and the defeated in heart, mind and body. But suffering is also the place where the martyr stands, taking suffering herself or himself in any and every part of the body for the sake of
others and for their welfare. Throughout our lives, we meet and experience both of these, degradation and martyrdom, and again we see these two strands in the life and death of Jesus.
Easter, nonetheless, is a time of joy. It is a time of a new dawn and a new community. Fragments of the old are knit together with new people to develop something that is quite different in every
conceivable way. As the story unfolds, people take up a new and a living story after a time of
tension, bickering and fear. Yet again, all of this is familiar to any of us in the communities to which we belong, whether they be schools, homes, workplaces or residential homes and hospitals, and in the situations and relationships which form the bedrock of our everyday life. A community of loyalty is formed at the foot of the cross. A community of solidarity leading to outreach and numerical growth is formed in the two meetings in an upper room. This community expands across the then known world with more and more people coming on board and taking the plunge. A new and different sense of community is what we need today. It is the core of true joy for social and gregarious creatures such as ourselves after two years of Lock-in.
And now what of Ukraine? Everyone has a view on The War in Ukraine. This war is little more than a month old and yet we have seen from afar, and from close at hand through the media and the social media channels, the most atrocious of human cruelty and human suffering in Europe in the twenty first century to date. We have seen not only homes, theatres and shops destroyed but also schools and maternity hospitals. Individual and community life has been shattered by the thunder and the precision of war. Seven million children alone have been severely affected. People are forced first to become refugees in their own country and then to become refugees wherever they can flee onwards. Suffering, solidarity and sympathy; crowds and individuals, contempt and cruelty, compassion and response: all of the components of Holy Week and Easter find expression in an entirely new and unprecedented situation. The worst and the best of human nature show themselves in a landscape of loss and fragmentation. The worst and the best of human response show themselves in a landscape of war and escape. We in Ireland, in every way possible, are now being given our chance to respond.
Many people have already done so magnificently. Our challenge is to keep this going and keep
shifting our emphasis and our impact. The only ways in which this can be done is for us to listen to what people actually want and need – and to say less rather than more. I encourage you all to offer welcome. That will be a real place to start.
St Mark 13.1, 2: As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples exclaimed, Look, Teacher,
what huge stones! What fine buildings! Jesus said to him, You see these great buildings? Not one
stone will be left upon another; they will all be thrown down.
Let us continue to watch, to care and to respond and may you have time for relaxation at Easter.