A Word from the Bishop on Our Common Life
Within the Octave of Good Shepherd Sunday
Ecumenical Patriarch +Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople (Istanbul-Turkey)-New Rome, wrote in his Easter Message to his faith community, “the present pandemic of the novel coronavirus has demonstrated how fragile we are as human beings, how easily we are dominated by fear and despondency, how frail our knowledge and self-confidence appear, how antiquated the notion is that death comprises an event at the end of life and that forgetting or suppressing death is the proper way of dealing with it. Limit situations prove that we are incapable of handling our existence resolutely, when we believe that death is an invincible reality and insurmountable boundary. It is difficult to remain human without the hope of eternity. This hope lives in the hearts of all doctors, nurses, volunteers, donors and all those generously supporting their suffering brothers and sisters in a spirit of sacrifice, offering and love. In this indescribable crisis, they radiate resurrection and hope. They are the “Good Samaritans” that, at the risk of their own lives, pour oil and wine on wounds; they are the modern-day “Cyrenaeans” on the Golgotha of those lying in illness.”
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has, in this succinct yet profound message, described the limitations of our humanity and our heightened awareness of fear. Fear is the natural default position that inundates everyone in times crisis and uncertainty. We recall the famous words of a former US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt in his inaugural address in 1932, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” In the acknowledgement of our inert ‘fear’ comes our renewed faith in the mystery of the Triduum. In the words of Patriarch Bartholomew, “the mystery and experience of the Resurrection constitutes the core of the ecclesiastical life. The radiant worship, the sacred mysteries, the life of prayer, fasting and ascesis, pastoral ministry and good witness in the world – all of these emanate the fragrance of Paschal joy. The life of the faithful in the Church is a daily Pascha, ‘a joy from above,’ ‘the joy of salvation,’ as well as the ‘salvation as joy.’ ”
On Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church observed ‘Jesus the Good Shepherd’ Sunday. The appointed Psalm for the day was Psalm 23. This venerable and universally popular psalm reminds us of how much God, the Shepherd, walks with us side by side, comforts us when our pain becomes unbearable, carries us on his shoulders when the journey seems too overbearing, strenuous and heavy or the valley too deep and winding or the mountain too steep and dangerous. Jesus promises protection and security from the enemy. Today’s enemy is the COVID-19 Pandemic and like the psalmist our cries come in the form of loud lamentations, cries that are heard across the globe. No one is spared this grief, no nation, no society, no individual or sector in the human enterprise. This makes it even more urgent for us to lean into God, seeking the Spirit as our source of guidance, inspiration and protection.
Nevertheless, it may be worthwhile to view our present context in light of salvific history. Let’s be honest, we humans without exception have abused God’s creation in a reckless and imprudent manner. In the words of the Apostle Paul writing to the Roman Church of his day, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…” (8:22). It was interesting to read that the so called ‘black hole’ in the atmosphere has virtually repaired itself and there is strikingly far less toxic pollutants in the air. Could it be that God is using this time of forced lock down of the global economy and life to engineer God’s own recovery process for the natural order? An interesting question to ponder and reflect on as Christians especially, when we pay careful attention to the history of God’s redemptive work. How are we using this time of forced quarantine? Let’s take a page from God’s book and repair our individual life and relationship with God and each other. Incidentally, do you know that the Italian word for 40, “quaranta” is where we get the word “quarantine.”?
Let me once again reference the venerable Patriarch +Bartholomew, “this salvific renewal in Christ is realized in the Church as a dynamic extension of the Eucharistic ethos in the world, as “speaking the truth in love,” as synergy with God for the transfiguration of the world, so that the world may be rendered an image of the fullness of the final revelation of the divine love in the Kingdom of the last times. Living in the risen Lord means proclaiming the Gospel “to the ends of the earth,” in the manner of the Apostles; it is the witness in practice of the grace that has appeared and the expectation of the “new creation,” where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore (Rev. 21.4).”
It is here that God may just be creating “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelations 21:1) for Jesus’ beloved community. We should note that Jesus the Good Shepherd isn’t the gatekeeper for the beloved of God alone, but every facet within a world created for God’s worship and honor. We are reminded in the Creation Story that humans were created in the first order to give honor and praise to God, to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth. (Genesis 1 & 2) This is God’s providential mandate for the beloved community.
The diocese launched the COVID-19 Pandemic Preparedness and Response Task Force to develop diocesan wide Protocols/Guidelines to inform our mission and ministry transition back to in-person physical worship. I heard one denominational Christian leader remark, “it was very easy to direct the closure of our churches from in-person physical worship – opening them back up is a more difficult and complicated proposition, it won’t be that easy”. From my pastoral observation, it will take a lot of conscientious effort, pastoral sensitivity, civic awareness and strategic planning to return us back to that pre-covid environment.
It is in deference to that reality and our call to be responsible, loving and caring citizens to God’s beloved that has inspired this initiative – so that we can give it the requisite careful and meticulous planning and attention it demands. In the motif and model of the Good Shepherd, the Diocese of Easton is a family of churches that loves and cares for the faithful in our fellowship and the community we live and serve in. As a result, the task of shepherding the diocese back to in-person physical worship or large gatherings should never be the prerogative of the bishop or a few dedicated leaders, rather it is the responsibility of our entire diocesan family as reflected by the ecclesiastical councils of this church.
The preparatory work that will be done through the task force is geared toward getting us ready for when Governor Larry Hogan and the Centre for Disease Control permit and inform us as to whatever shape or form re-entry into our sacred spaces may look like. Guidelines/protocols function like guard rails and most of us are familiar with the rationale for installing them.
Once again, I fervently and categorically endorse the work of the task force and encourage everyone to hold the members in your daily prayers. All my love and prayers for your safety and welfare. Collectively and by God’s grace, we shall get through this pandemic.
Let us pray,
“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude vs 24)