Well, here we are on Tuesday in Easter week, and though I know that Easter arrived on Sunday, somehow it feels like we’re still in an in-between place, more like Holy Saturday than the joyous, springlike, hope-filled Easters I remember from more than sixty years of life. I loved our worship on Sunday morning, many of us wearing flowered prints, pastel ties, spring-like colors, and even a hat or two. As cheerful as we were, and glad to be “together”, I think we all felt the absence not just of the Eucharist, each other’s physical presence, the choir and trumpets, the flowers and cakes, but of that sense of a completed journey that Easter usually brings. We don’t know what the next weeks and months will hold. We don’t know how long we’ll be in this suspended state of place and time. We don’t know how long we’ll be worried about what may happen to us, to our loved ones, to our finances and even to our beloved cathedral before this situation resolves.
Psalm 103, appointed for Morning Prayer today, is a hymn of thanksgiving for recovery from sickness. It begins:
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits —
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases
Those lines are surely what we long for, but today they still feel somehow… premature. When we look back at the psalm that comes just before this one, Psalm 102, we find the prayer of someone who is ill and afflicted. These familiar Lenten phrases formed the basis for some of Henry Purcell’s and Richard Farrant’s most memorable music, which we always sing during Lent:
Hear my prayer O Lord,
and let my cry come unto thee.
Do not hide your face from me,
in the day of my distress.
and it goes on:
For my days pass away like smoke
and my bones burn like a furnace
My heart is stricken and withered like grass
I am too wasted to eat my bread.
Yes, we can identify with that. So, are we still there, with the stricken psalmist, or has Easter come and filled us with hope? Or are we perhaps teetering between these two poles of plead-ing and thanksgiving, expressed so well by Psalms 102 and 103?
It’s impossible to ignore the reality in which we’re living. The mother of a friend died from the virus here in Quebec on Saturday. We’ve seen unforgettable images of hundreds of coffins be-ing buried in trenches in New York City, that hub of energy and life. Jesus died on a cross. Young refugees are dying in migrant camps. None of these things should have happened, and yet they have, and continue to happen now.
I’ve been haunted by the photographs of Pope Francis, praying alone at night in a deserted St. Peter’s Square. I’ve been in that vast space, waiting with thousands of other visitors to enter the basilica; it’s hard to imagine it empty. Somehow the desolation and poignant loneliness of that image encapsulated the spiritual question many must be asking: if there is a God, how can (s)he permit this amount of suffering? During times of war, people of opposing factions pray opposing prayers. But right now, the entire world is united in wanting this virus to end, and for lives to be spared. The emptiness of that square in Rome seemed, to me, to ask, Where is God in this crisis, and is (s)he listening to us at all?
I went back to Psalm 103 — the thanksgiving psalm — looking for answers.
Throughout, the psalmist speaks of God’s compassion and mercy, his slowness to anger, his forgiveness. No less than four times, we encounter the phrase “his steadfast love.” And this steadfast love is contrasted with the fleeting lives of human beings:
As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord
is from everlasting to everlasting…
It seems to me that this is what we must pray for: to be, during our finite lives on earth, an embodiment of God’s steadfast love. It’s what Jesus asked of us at the Last Supper, in his final message to his disciples: “love one another as I have loved you.”
Steadfast love is what I saw in the faces of our community gathered on a Zoom screen on East-er morning. And steadfast love also reminds me of Easters past, and the faces of my family and friends, many of whom are gone now, but who lived that phrase out in their own lives. Love for each other in the face of difficulty, love at the foot of the cross and at the tomb, love regardless of the difficulties, pain, and uncertainty of this particular time, and love that looks forward to spring, renewal, and resurrection, not just in the future, but every day.