This post is an abridged version of the testimony given by one of our Parish Council members, Lia Ray, during our Easter Sunday Worship Service on the 12th of April this year.
My favourite Christian liturgy is the Easter vigil, and this year I feel deeply saddened by not being part of one. I first experienced this liturgy as a seventeen-year-old, celebrated by a priest who had a huge impact on my spiritual life and passed away only three weeks ago. So, feeling an absence this year due to the isolation caused by COVID-19, I have found myself reflecting on that Easter experience and what it meant to me.
It was held by multiple parishes and run largely by my youth group. My friends were the readers, the musicians and communion ministers. It was an outdoor mass held in Lower Plenty at Amberly Retreat Centre, which is at the peak of a hill and overlooks the Yarra River and Westerfolds Park. It’s beautiful and so very peaceful. The service, most shockingly for a very non-morning person, started at 5:00am. I had to set several alarms to ensure I got there on time.
The service started in complete darkness, our only light came from the torches we held in our shivering hands as we to struggled to read the music and not play our instruments flat. The liturgy started around a bonfire lit by Father Peter and, suddenly, there was light and warmth. He would lean in and with a very long taper and light the Pascal candle. We would all then light the candles in our own hands, which lit the way as we walked down to the courtyard, praying as we went. I remember watching the fire move as we passed the light of Christ to one another. What was once a cold and dark place was slowly being filled with light. Each person’s face, once hidden in darkness, became visible. A path that seemed impassable and filled with obstacles was shown to be safe. Slowly we all made our way down to the courtyard where, if we were very lucky and the weather fine, just as the communion wafer was raised and blessed the sun would rise over the tree line and light would cover us all, just as we celebrated the rising of Jesus from the tomb. It was magical.
Right now the whole world is filled with fear and worry, and not without reason. We are all suffering in some way, feeling the pain of physical isolation, loss of employment or income, unsure of what tomorrow will bring. We are all being forced to dramatically change the way we live our lives. I hear, in the voices of those I talk to, the anxiety and fear of the unknown. Kids slowly going crazy by being house bound, unsure how school is going to look, and parents terrified of failing at work or in educating their children. People who leave the house for work afraid of what they will bring home to those they care about. Grandparents not able to spoil or hug their grandkids. Friends not able to get together. Sport and clubs closed and a feeling of losing social connection. If this rings true to you, no matter how you are feeling at the moment, you are not alone in this and this is my first symbol of hope to us all.
Hope starts small, it starts in enjoying the time with your family, in those precious moments that we are normally too busy to notice. Hope is in the delivery driver bringing food to our homes, or the truck drivers moving food around the nation. Hope is in the work of everyone who is now working at home and still are managing to do their jobs. Hope is seen by those working in our supermarkets and pharmacies, who are bearing the brunt of stressed people and yet still showing grace. Hope is being shown by those who are working in our charities meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in our society, because COVID-19 affects all people. Hope is in hospital staff all around the world working harder and longer than ever before, dealing with despair and not giving up. Hope is in the ingenuity of medical researchers searching for treatments and vaccines. Hope is politicians putting aside political differences and working together for the good of all Australians. Hope can be found as our church finds a new way to gather. Hope is found in giving yourself permission to not be perfect at this time, to have bad days, to sometimes feel lost or bored or overwhelmed, and yet get through the day. Hope is in us forgiving each other when those around us are struggling and helping when we can. Hope is found in us praying and being with each other.
Each of these is just like another candle being lit at the Easter Vigil. Another piece of hope shining out as light and overcoming the darkness of fear and loss. Another piece showing us the way forward. So I encourage you to be light to each other. To be friends to those around you and ask for help when you are lost. To pass that glimmer of hope on to one another until we have the bonfire blazing with light.
As Christians we have a gift of hope, believing that even in the darkest of days, in suffering, in pain, and even in death, there is always hope. This morning we are celebrating that Jesus overcame death and gave the world hope. He is the sunrise over the hill I remember from when I was seventeen. He shines a light upon us in our despair. The sunrise may not yet be here in the fight against COVID-19, in many ways we are all still in the darkness and may be for some time. But I have my candle lit and I have hope in tomorrow.