Easter Message of the Obispo Maximo, His Eminence The Most Revd Rhee Millena Timbang, Iglesia Filipina Independiente, 12 April 2020
TO ALL THE BISHOPS, CLERGY AND FAITHFUL
Dear People of God:
Greeting you all the ancient Easter greetings: “Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed.”
Our celebration of Easter today is more real, emotional and meaningful than in the previous years.
All of us who belong to the post-World War II generations, this is perhaps our first time to observe the Holy Week and celebrate the Easter Sunday differently. Because of the COVID19 pandemic crisis we were forced to stay at home, and missed the regular routine we usually undertake every day before the national emergency situation. We suspended all church services and activities in order to deter mass gathering to prevent the further outbreak of the dreaded virus. We submitted ourselves to engage in home-quarantine and follow the proper hygiene and preventive measures as advised by DOH and our respective LGU’s, thus compelling us to change our personal, familial and communal behaviour and lifestyle, including even our worshipping life as Church just to keep ourselves safe. We are all engulfed with fear and uncertainty; we doubt our human capability to protect ourselves and deep in hearts we worry on our capacity to overcome and survive the crisis.
In these days, the reality of human death is so near and imminent, and we are constantly reminded of its sting and harm as images of death surround us starkly in common. We see it as we meet people in the streets and groceries wearing the strips of cloth now called as masks and gloves; we see it as we encounter neighbours and friends wearing the linens of cloth now fashioned as medical gowns and protective gears; we see them to resemble the funeral clothes that bound the Lord Jesus in tomb. We experience this death as we read the news and the updates on the numbers of persons now infected and deceased both in local and global level. We are dumbfounded to know that doctors and nurses, young and brilliant as they were, are the first to die among those working at the frontline in this battle. We dread the death that this virus brings because it makes the victim alone, uncared and isolated, and the patients’ death as fast and devoid of family, proper grieving and decent burial. We are gripped with fear, we grimace in pain, and we tremble with the thoughts that all of us are vulnerable and become the next victim in line. Painfully, we are indeed facing death and tomb in these difficult times of medical/health crisis; and we are facing them squarely like the Lord Jesus in a seemingly lengthen Good Friday of our lives. We are silenced by fear with these realities like the crippling silence that filled the air of the Holy Saturday around the tomb of the Lord Jesus, impressing the world that his life is ended and God’s plan for the humankind has gone to the pits of the earth, with no signs of hope whatsoever.
In this Easter Sunday, however, our mood, outlook and perspective is radically changed despite finding ourselves in the presence of a crisis, because we behold today our God as surprising and powerful, as above death and greater than tomb. We see our God working his power in the silence of the tomb because his is one that continues to create and recreate human life so that his plan persists for the goodness and salvation of the world, with no grandstanding accompanying it. God’s power is telling us that despite the prolonged silence of the Holy Saturday being experience now throughout the whole world, he is in our midst and working for us and in our behalf. We have him to hold on and to pin all our hopes for at this darkest and scariest moments of our lives as we face the attacks of the unseen beast.
We find our God accompanying us in our journey in this lengthen Good Friday of our national life to turn our fear into hope, to transform our doubt into faith, to change our worries into strength, and to renew our will, because he is bigger and mightier that everything in the world combined. God’s power is telling us that he is everything in life since all the things that we cling on and believe to supposedly give us comfort and security in life can suddenly be worthless as this COVID19 pandemic crisis proves.
Today, in Easter Sunday, we find that indeed we have our God identifying with our crisis, bearing with us the weight of our insecurity, but, most, enabling us to go through, to live through and to survive in and overcome any ungodly situation of our life. As he raised Jesus from the dead and made him victorious over the power of the tomb, the Easter account is telling us straight into our senses that God will raise us up over this present medical/health crisis, he will allow us to transcend this terrifying predicament, and will bring us to the purpose he intends us to live through. God raised the Lord Jesus to life so that in him life always become worthy of living and life acquires a nobler meaning.
In the rising of Jesus from the dead, God proves that the life with him, through and in the Lord Jesus, is one that always moves on, that goes forward, that lives beyond the present, that looks into the future because it is a life that is one with the Lord Jesus who enjoys favour and unity with God his Father. Through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, we are told not to dwell on and linger our life in sad past and bitter experience as if we were in death and dying itself. The Easter account says: “He is not here…He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee” (Matthew 28:6-7, NRSV) to impress upon us that life does not end in death and tomb, but life moves on and proceeds to accomplish greater purpose in life set for us to undertake, in faith and in hope, with God as end-goal through the Lord Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is in this sense that we understand the impact of the resurrection upon our life as human beings. John Dunne, a writer, says, “The resurrection is an enormous answer to the problem of death. The idea is that the Christian goes with Christ through death to everlasting life. Death becomes an event, like birth, that is lived through.” Indeed, through resurrection as proclaimed in the gospels today, death has become merely another event in the on-going process of life; death becomes something we live through with Christ. As Martin Luther said” “A Christian is never in a state of completion but always in a process of becoming. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished.” There is definitely a consummation of this purpose, and that is to make us all an Easter community where the spirit of resurrection is at the heart and center of our lives and the aspiration and thrust of our calling as Church.
Hence, today, we are being asked not find Jesus in the tomb, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:5b-6a) but should find him where he is among the living, in the so-called Galilees of our daily lives. It is in these places where the struggle to seek the resurrected Jesus by doing loving service among the poor, the disadvantaged, the needy and vulnerable is the continuing motivation in all our efforts for us to live out a meaningful life in the resurrection. Our Lord Jesus initiated us towards this life of loving service in a parable about judgement in the end of times declaring “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it for me” (Matthew 25:40 NRSV). Earlier, the Lord Jesus himself said: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). The Easter event is therefore both an invitation and mandate for us to go into a kind of life characterized by loving service as demonstrated by the Lord Jesus to usher and promote a humane, just and peace-filled life, the life in its fullness that he offered, and he consequently directed his believers to spend out their individual and corporate lives.
This invitation and mandate finds concrete relevance in our contemporary context as greater number of people in our society continue to experience situations of death and dying because of massive poverty, social injustice, violation against people’s rights and human dignity, and plunder against the earth and its bio-diversity and mineral resources. Even in the midst of this crisis, these situations remain exacerbated in the way the government is responding to the needs of the people especially those who are hapless and vulnerable, and the manner it is mobilizing its resources to protect the health and food security of the populace. Militarization has become more evident all over the nation, while repressive attacks against the militant and progressive organizations and personalities critical to the president and his government continue unabated. Obviously, these situations strongly challenge us disciples of the Risen Lord in this modern time, either individually and corporately, to take the cudgel for the least of the members of the family of the Lord, to promote a compassionate and caring society, and live out the life in the resurrection. Interestingly, all through the post-resurrection appearances of the Lord Jesus, he always punctuated his presence with the meal to demonstrate to us that food, together with justice, freedom and jobs, constitutes the basic necessity that full human dignity requires.
Today’s Easter celebration is indeed telling us that there is a loving, merciful and powerful God, and through the resurrected Christ he silently works for us to give us hope and comfort that, even in the midst of this terrifying and uncertain time, we have him to hold on, and the new morning of a continuing life is at the offing through his power and grace to lead us to overcome someday this crisis and all other human situations that negate life. The power of the resurrection is so awesome that it will throw away the stripes and linen of clothes designed as facemasks and gloves and medical gowns and protective gears as useless like what happened to the funeral clothing that bound the Lord Jesus in his death. The grace of the resurrection is so amazing that it will empty our lives like the tomb with all the crippling fear, stifling uncertainty and sapping anguish, and fill them instead with robust hope, refreshed will, and renewed desire like the flash of a lightning and the shaking of an earthquake that immobilized those that keep and promote death. The power and grace of the resurrection is so overwhelming that the disciples in lockdown by the closed doors because of their fears were rendered open and free to receive the greetings of the empowering peace from the resurrected Jesus. The power and grace of the resurrection is so wonderful that the death identified with the tomb is transformed into life in the way that the valley of bones in Jeremiah’s time was changed to burst with life. This power and grace of the resurrection give us the immense joy to experience today and to live through the days of believing and walking with our God in Jesus. As Floyd W. Tomkins, a minister and ecumenist, says “Let the resurrection joy lift us from loneliness and weakness and despair to strength and beauty and happiness.”
It is to this resurrection joy that we invite everyone in the Church and in this nation to receive and uphold, and to govern and prevail over us in this difficult time of the corona virus crisis. Because beneath this joy is the power and grace that in the words of Phillips Brooks in “An Easter Carol” that he penned:
“Tomb, thou shalt not hold Him longer;
Death is strong, but Life is stronger;
Stronger than the dark, the light;
Stronger than the wrong, the right.”
Yes, truly, above and over this pandemic crisis, we are summoned to claim and embrace greater truths that life, light and right is stronger than death, darkness and wrong. And we all find them in Christ the Lord who, in God’s power and grace, is risen today, and so do we.
With confidence then let us proclaim this resurrection joy in the lyrics written by Charles Wesley in 1739: “Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia! Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia! Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia! Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!” Happy Easter to all of us.
2020 EASTER SUNDAY