Lent, Easter, and COVID-19

c-v 1 6 x 4.jpg

Plunged into a time of such disruption, it can be difficult to feel that we are still in Lent. And while some disruptions demand more of our immediate attention than do others, Lent remains an annual interruption to our ‘normal’ modes of living, the reminder that while we are made for life, life neither precludes nor dulls the actualities of death.

We experience some of this twin reality, for example, in the way that unforeseen joy and absolute despair pair up in our lives. It is also a coupling we read about in the Easter narratives, and which we experience in the proclamation activities of baptism and eucharist. Each in their own way recalls that the tragedy of the grave is not territory of which God is unfamiliar, and anticipates that whatever comes next will be euchatastrophic. Such is the character of hope.

Such events bear witness also to an important and easily-forgotten truth; namely, that in this world there exists nothing stable, nothing wholly reliable, nothing immune from absolute vulnerability. This year, we are learning these same lessons in other ways. COVID-19 brings closer to home than we are comfortable with what is true for us always – that to be alive is to live continuously suspended over the abyss of nonbeing, upheld solely by the voice of one who even in his proximity to us remains a Stranger to us.

Some of us are already imagining a return to those death-denying routines upon which we depend to return life to normality. It’s hard to stay in Lent. It’s impossible to stay in Easter.

The French polymath Blaise Pascal (1623–62) famously suggested that ‘Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world’. Pascal’s words exhort us to a twin resistance – a resistance to becoming nostalgic for the past and a resistance to taking refuge in some imagined and enchanting future. It is, in other words, a call to stay with Christ wherever Christ is, however unbearable that proves to be. This too is the call of Lent, and of Easter. May this call be met with a response of our faith, however fragile.

Image: Douglas Purnell, ‘C-V 1’, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 180 x 122 cm. Private collection, Sydney. Used with permission.

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