Most Rev. Dr. James Thoppil
Bishop of Kohima, Nagaland
Dear Friends in Christ,
Let me begin this message wishing you all a very happy and grace-filled Easter! Let the hope of the Risen Lord continue to throw life and light in our path of life. Shout with joy “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” Resurrection is our faith, resurrection is our hope. More than any year, this year, 2020 we need more faith and hope in the resurrection of Christ to carry us through.
Many of us will say, the Easter this year is neither happy nor grace-filled. These are dark days - a huge, suffocating cloud of fear and anxiety engulfs the whole humanity. The whole humanity’s hope is strangled by the darkness of despair that comes in the name of COVID-19. We are living in very difficult times, abnormal time and realities of the time seem to eclipse our faith. The pictures of calamity predicted by experts are alarming. Almost two million people are infected and nearly 82,000 people have died. The Four Horsemen of the book of Apocalypse seemed to have arrived.
Yet we are invited to proclaim with joy “Alleluia! Christ is risen!”. COVID-19 is virtually the Way of the Cross for humanity. Thousands have been crucified to a cruel death by a viral organism that cannot be seen by eyes. Thousands have been walking an excruciating Way of the Cross in many countries. We pray that thousands afflicted and walking in their way of the Cross, be strengthened by the faith that the Cross ends in Resurrection.
No doubt, COVID-19 challenges our faith and our hope. The Church is about communion. In joy and fellowship, in every mass we gather to affirm and celebrate our communion. Our mission is to build communion and yet in this time of crisis, we seem to surrender ourselves to isolation. Paradoxical as it may seem, keeping distance from one another means we truly care for each other, because we want to stop the transmission of the deadly virus.
The most painful reality has been that churches are closed. Pope Francis once said that the Church should be like a “field hospital”, available where human brokenness and the wounded need the healing touch of Mother Church. Yet the places where we sought God, where we shed our silent tears of brokenness and sought human fellowship are now closed. The Vatican remains closed. In many countries, the Sacrament of Communion, the Eucharist, is stopped. What wars and persecutions could not do, the invisible virus achieved without much ado.
We, Christians and all humanity, wait with hope that this Holy Saturday will end with a victorious Easter. All wish that dark nights end with the dawn. Evil has an expiry date. Good has none. The Church is God’s hope-generating agency. So with joy and hope we say: “Alleluia! Christ is risen! Now we are an “Easter people” which means that we are not supposed to lie buried in the tomb of our sins, evil habits, dangerous addictions, despair, discouragement, or doubts. Instead, we are expected to live a joyful and peaceful life, constantly experiencing the living presence of the Risen Lord in all the events of our lives and amid the boredom, suffering, pain, and tensions of our day-to-day life.
COVID-19, the invisible virus, has taught us many existential lessons: A pandemic like Covid-19 has no favourites: the richest and more powerful nations that have arrogantly stockpiled nuclear arms and weapons are brought to their knees by the virus. World powers that arrogantly negate all transcendent powers and ethical values learn with humility that life is fragile and that we all need one another. It has brought home the truth in the saying, there is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed. Science and technology alone cannot give purpose and meaning to human life. More than anything, all powers can learn to acknowledge the presence of a Power that is above all. With great pain many countries realize that they have more soldiers in their countries in the business of killing than they have doctors who can save lives. Humanity itself is on the way of the Cross. May this Cross lead all nations to consign enmity and war to fire and see resurrection in human solidarity, solidarity in sharing – material and human resources, knowledge and technology, moral qualities and humane principles.
Humanity and the Church have waded through valleys of tears before: the various plagues mentioned in the Bible, the Black Plague of the middle Ages, when half of European people perished and nearly half of the church personnel sacrificed their lives, the ‘Spanish’ Flu that took more than 50 million of world population. Nothing is new now.
COVID-19 will leave nothing unchanged. This angel of death, like the Seventh Seal of the Book of Revelation, brings a shattering message. Nothing will be same again. The way we worship, the way we relate with one another, the way we work, will all change. We are at the dawn of a new consciousness, a radically fresh approach to our life as the human family in a fragile world. Social distance risks bringing social paranoia – fear of my brother and sister. Instead, we must insist that these measures arise from and lead to new forms of solidarity.
Pope Francis, deeply pained by the human suffering and the closing of the churches, diagnosed today’s humanity’s problem in his Urbi et Orbi exhortation :
He said, When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm.
Our destiny, the Pope urges, is connected to each other. That is the message of Easter: We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat...... are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying "We are perishing”(v.38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.
Into that new world of human solidarity and love let a new Easter be Born!
Let us with Ravindranath Tagore pray
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action –
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let our world (my country) awake.
This is possible with Christ and in Christ who died and rose again: So let us say with hope and proclaim from the roof tops: “Alleluia – Christ is Risen, Christ is risen indeed Alleluia!”
Easter Message 2020 of Most Rev. Dr. James Thoppil, Bishop of Kohima, Nagaland.