Triduum Retreat 2020 – Easter Sunday – The light that flickers into life

Welcome to this audio retreat produced by the Jesuit Institute South Africa.

For Easter Sunday, Fr Anthony Egan SJ reflects on ‘the light that flickers into life.’

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The light that flickers into life.

Suddenly, in the depths of night, a light flickers into life, a light that grows brighter and shines in the darkness, the light of Resurrection. In normal times, but not this year, in many churches throughout the world we begin, appropriately, outside as we light the Easter Candle, the candle that proclaims the resurrection. For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere in the deep midwinter (if I may steal this phrase from a Northern Christmas carol), this is often no small effort. But somehow the Candle is lit and we move into the darkened church lighting each other’s candles from this one candle, until we – and the church – are bathed in resurrection light. And we sing Lumen Christi! Deo gratias! as the silence of death is drowned out by our songs of resurrection.
This day and in the days and weeks that follow we read, and in our reading are united with, the experience of Resurrection of our forefathers and foremothers in faith.
This year we are faced with the painful, albeit essential, separation from our communal celebration of Easter by social distancing, and in many countries by lockdown. By Covid-19. It is necessary for our wellbeing, to give the medics and scientists the space to find a cure. It is also an act of Christian love on our part to comply with this. But it should not dampen or delay our celebration of the Resurrection. Instead it should challenge us to experience and embrace it in a new way.
After all, Resurrection began in isolation. It started with individuals and small groups who, in the days and weeks after the great cataclysm that was the Crucifixion, experienced the Lord as risen, risen indeed! The readings of Easter – Easter Sunday and the Easter Season – reflect this:
  • Three women find an empty tomb…
  • Mary of Magdala meets someone she thinks is a gardener…
  • A disillusion pair of disciples – whom some scholars think may have been a married couple – encounter a stranger on their way home to Emmaus who understands their murdered Lord better than they do…
  • A group of disciples in a Jerusalem safe house – in self-imposed ‘lockdown’ you might even say – find Jesus in their midst…
  • Later Thomas rejects their claims only to come face to face with Jesus and believes…
  • And let us not forget that dramatic fish breakfast by the sea, where Peter’s threefold denial is forgiven by the Lord’s threefold commissioning….
And yes, in this time of resurrection, there are doubts. Some are spoken out loud, some are experiences of fear and uncertainty – is this just wish fulfilment, a delusion; are we just seeing a ghost? It goes on, as Acts of the Apostles tells us, right up to the Ascension. Joy is mixed with doubt, faith mixed with uncertainty. But the world of the Apostles – and our world too – in transformed, changed – “All changed, changed utterly”, as the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats put it in another context. This tension at the heart of Easter joy is particularly important to us today as we celebrate the Resurrection amidst doubts, uncertainties and fears of coronavirus. How can we celebrate when all our familiar practices of Easter are on hold? How might we embrace new life in a time of death?
Go back to the Scriptures. Read them anew, read them afresh at this time. As we look closely at them, see how they resonate with these times. Take any of the resurrection texts and see:
  • How the three women at the tomb were afraid and fled and (initially it seems) told no-one. Faced with something unfamiliar and even frightening, do we not also react with fear and silence?
  • How, when she saw it was the Risen Christ, Mary of Magdala’s first response was to cling to him. Do we not do the same – clinging on to the familiar – often at the cost of finding something new?
  • How the Emmaus couple struggle to move beyond their fixed assumptions about Jesus the Messiah, assumptions made in their image and likeness of him. What are our fixed ideas, and how do they obstruct a vision of the Risen Lord that is bigger than our own?
  • How the Jerusalem community in lockdown seem joyful but do not move out of their place of safety. Do we not prefer to stay in a personal relationship with Christ rather than go out and proclaim him in our deeds?
  • How Thomas moves from doubt to faith. Do we remain in trapped and crippled by doubt, fear and a sense of loss?
  • How Peter’s joy is muted by a sense of unworthiness. Do we feel unworthy, unable to act out of faith outside a kind of groupthink?
We are called to break out of fear and silence, to be open to the newness of the Resurrection, to be ready to revisit and rethink fixed ideas so as not to obstruct the Risen Christ. We are challenged to go beyond personal faith to proclaim him in deeds, to act in faith even perhaps as we battle doubt. And we are called in this time particularly to see beyond models of the Church that can no longer be applied today.
And we are in good company. The disciples had nothing much to go on. They had to improvise. And what they improvised was what we call today the Church.
Perhaps this Covid-19 Easter is saying something to the Church, to us. With all that is familiar taken away from us, with the tried and tested things we do no longer possible, how are we to be contemporary proclaimers of the Resurrection – apostles – in the world?
It’s not my job, I think, to give you answers. It’s our job, whatever forms of life we’re in.
So, a few suggestions:
  1. Reflect on the strangeness of this particular Easter. An Easter in exile, an Easter in lockdown. Embrace and acknowledge how this makes you feel.
  2. Take any of the Resurrection gospel narratives. Observe and try to feel the mood of the participants.
  3. Dialogue with the Risen Lord over how you can celebrate Easter now. Ask him to help you to connect your experience to a renewed commitment to him.

A Poem for Easter 2020

Get up early. Take your morning cup of coffee, sit and
Watch the Sun rise:
This Morning. Next morning, or the next. No matter;
The Sun will rise on us all, saint and sinner and in-between.
The Sun has risen, even in the dark of isolation,
Even in this time of Exile:
This Morning. Next morning, or the next. No matter;
The Sun will rise on us all, saint and sinner and in-between.
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Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

a.egan@jesuitinstitute.org.za
See more from Anthony Egan SJ
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