This Lent we have lost so much. I am reminded of images that I sometimes see on television of people returning to their homes after forced evacuation due to flood or fire and of them pawing through the ruins to discover how much of what they had before still remained. That’s what it sometimes feels like. Before the Covid pestilence struck, we had so much. Now many of the things we took for granted we have no longer. Pawing through the wreckage left by the pestilence, what remains?
Like people returning trembling to their homes to take stock and relieved to find their house untouched, we too should be gratefully relieved to find that the things we really need to survive still remain, untouched by this disaster. For three things remain and we have them still.
First of all, we still have the Church. The Church is not the building, and when the pagans of old persecuted the Church, they did not vandalize the structures where the Christians met. Instead, they tortured the Christians themselves, to force them to renounce Christ, for they knew that the Christians were the Church. Despite the restrictions temporarily placed on assembly, we still have the Church, because we still have each other. We still have a family which loves us and supports us.
Some congregations are not live-streaming the services. Instead, they are sharing them through Zoom so that the people may not only hear and see the services, but also see and hear each other. Indeed, I suspect that the time of sharing and socializing with each other afterward on “Gallery view” when they can see and talk to each other is almost as valuable as the services themselves.
The central fact about a parish is that it is a family and all the people there belong to one another, because they all belong to Christ. The Lord taught us this on the night before He died: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). It is this love that makes us a family. And this family love—this Church—remains.
Secondly, we still have our Faith. Pestilential viruses may be strong. Other terrible things we encounter in the world are strong also, things like bereavement, pain, and persecution. These things are strong, but Christ is stronger. He told us this too on the night before He died: “In the world you have tribulation. But be of good cheer—I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And since we have faith in Christ, our faith can overcome anything in the world. St. John (who had plenty of tribulation in his life, including exile to Patmos) reminded us of this when he wrote, “This is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).
We can endure any tribulation because of our faith in Jesus. Indeed, enduring these terrible things can make us stronger than we were before. We may be battered, bloodied, and bruised, but we remain unbowed. Or, in the words of St. Paul, “We are afflicted, but not crushed, struck down, but not destroyed”. We should not be surprised by this tribulation. When we were first made catechumens the Church called us the “sealed, newly-enlisted soldiers of Christ our God”, and soldiers enlist so that they can fight. It is our duty, privilege, and joy to fight for our King and to bleed for Him under His flowing banner—we few Christians, we happy few, we band of brothers. Let the world rage and do its worst. We can overcome the world through our faith, and our faith remains.
Finally, the promise of immortality remains. The deaths from Covid 19, tragic as they are, do not increase the total number of deaths in the world. The death rate is always 100% in every generation. That is why Pascha lies at the heart of our faith, because Pascha is God’s promise that death will not have the final word. Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. With Christ’s rising from the dead, the final resurrection of all has begun. But, as Paul taught, each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits, and then after that those of us who belong to Him will rise when He comes again (1 Corinthians 15:23). Christ’s Resurrection was the beginning of the end, and a herald of our impending immortality.
For now we are passing through a wilderness, trudging wearily on our way to the desert of this age. Soon enough we will come to the River Jordan, the boundary of the Promised Land, and as the Lord once did for His people, so He will do again—the waters of death will part and we will cross over dry-shod into a flowing with milk and honey. In that land we will come to a day that will know no evening, and add our voices to a song which will have no end. Each Pascha we are given a glimpse of that endless sunshine, and catch a few notes of that eternal song.
The year 2020 has indeed been a strange year for us, but all the things we need to live and rejoice remain untouched. Our church remains, our faith remains, Pascha remains. Let us cling together, and fight on, and sing to the Lord until He comes.