From the heart of death: a reflection

Cross with setting sun and clouds behind it

Corrie van den Bosch MSS wrote the following reflection on 6 April 2020, the Monday of Holy Week. Though Good Friday has passed, there is much richness in these words to reflect upon.

Our Holy Week liturgies are muted this year. COVID-19 prevents us from gathering in our parishes and keeps us in social isolation. Reflecting on the events we commemorate in this holiest of weeks in the Christian calendar, I find running through my mind the refrain of Peter Kearney’s song, The Man God Chose, based on the song of the suffering servant, Isaiah 53: 1-13: “We didn’t think this kind of man could be at the heart of God’s plan; a lowly loser in ragged clothes, the man God chose.”

How do we individually and as a Church enter into the events of Holy Week with an awareness of their earth-shattering implications? The pandemic can potentially kill millions of people. Earth, our common home, is under threat of environmental disintegration because of our living beyond what Earth can sustain. The world community is under threat from poverty, violence and oppression resulting from and serving the systems of wealth and power that sustain our way of life.

Within the Church, the Gospel is under threat from institutionalism, clericalism, the pandemic of clerical sexual abuse and its cover-up. What if clerical sexual abuse is the corona virus of the Church, a virus that is the result of what we have created with our collective preoccupation with power, authority, with saving face, while all the time there was something rotten within? What if this virus were to bring down the entire institutional edifice that we, followers of Jesus, have collectively created over the past 2000 years? The vision that comes to mind with this possibility is the explosion of an atomic bomb and its aftermath. Devastation. Silence. Death.

Let’s stop there. Death. The Christ we ostensibly served, now buried beneath its debris. His followers slinking into hiding places, like so many of us want to hide in shame at the findings of the royal commission. Death. Can we stay there for three days, without turning our minds away from the horror that is the consequence of our collective creation? As the cacophony of ridicule falls silent on Calvary and the crowd disperses, darkness envelopes us; hopes are turned to emptiness. The Church is dead. God is dead. At least, the God we thought we knew is dead.

Is it possible to hope when there is no resurrection – at least, not that we know of? That is the world the disciples were catapulted into that Good Friday, and described so powerfully by Sebastian Moore*: Jesus, in whom they had vested all their hope, is dead. With his death, God died. They hid in fear and shame. Only the women kept watch and prepared spices to perform their last loving rituals on the body of him on whom they too had set their hearts and their hopes.

The mysteries we celebrate this week are as close to the bone as this. As a Church, we haven’t yet fully come to our Good Friday. We still uphold the structures that have so deeply wounded so many of us. We are preparing for a Plenary Council, now deferred to 2021. Are we willing to experience our collective death? And rather than focus on action to rebuild, are we willing to wait upon the Holy Spirit for what may come next?

Women are already preparing precious oils and spices. Will these be used to bury the Church? Or, as they are about to anoint the dead Body of Christ, will they be the first to meet him risen?

The risen Jesus was not immediately recognised by those who thought they knew him well. The Body of Christ, rising from its ashes by the power of the Holy Spirit, will not be the same as the one that died. We may find him where we least expect, going about incognito, healing his shattered flock. Go, tell my disciples!

* Sebastian Moore, The Fire and the Rose are One, Darton, Longman and Todd, London 1980, p. 85 f.