10 April 2020

Even in the darkest days,
there is always hope

A man walks past a building with the message “Don’t be afraid” written on it amid the spread of the coronavirus, in Dublin. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

The Good Friday story is one of fear, isolation, betrayal, abandonment and a lonely death. In two Gospel accounts, Saint Matthew and Saint Mark, the last words of the dying Christ on the cross include a cry that expresses the bitter agony of dying alone: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It is a literary device of the time to quote a psalm’s opening words to put its full thoughts into the mouth of a speaker. In this case, the dying Christ is quoting Psalm 22, which begins by asking why God seemingly cannot hear “the words of my distress”:

“O my God, I cry in the daytime,
but you do not answer;
by night as well, but I find no rest.”

In these restless days, as people feel fearful, isolated and betrayed, as they see their loved ones die, feeling abandoned and alone in their final hours, the cry to God of the dying Christ has become the cry of many people of faith in the despair created by the Covid-19 pandemic and in their forced isolation.

It is now meaningless to respond or reply with easy platitudes that speak about having hope and looking forward to the new life promised in the Resurrection and Easter. And yet, there are so many resonances today in the Easter story as it unfolds in the Gospels.

Christ too is buried hurriedly without the presence of his friends, with few members of his family present, and two men who are not part of his inner circle, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, attending to the hasty burial.

After his death, those closest to him, the disciples, hide away in fear, locked behind closed doors, fretful about what is ahead. Yet Psalm 22 ends with hope not just for the future but for future generations.

Priests and pastors, parishes and churchgoers who are worried about not opening their church doors this Easter, should remind themselves of how the apostles were also locked away in fear that first Easter. Fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of what the future may hold, are often at the heart of motivating communal religious experiences and responses.

At first, the disciples fail to realise the possibility of a new future. The men stay behind closed doors while the women visit the tomb early in the morning. It takes some time for them to accept the news the women bring back from the empty tomb.

But for the next 40 days, two phrases are repeated constantly by the Risen Christ: “Peace be with you!” and “Be not afraid!” He says these words over and over again … for, even in the darkest days, there is always hope, and hope that offers new life.

This editorial is published in The Irish Times this morning, Good Friday, 10 April 2020

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