For Easter, Anthony Horan, Director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, considers the meaning of this important Christian festival and the hope it offers as we begin to emerge from lockdown.

It is quite overwhelming to be asked to write a blog for Easter. As far as Christianity goes, it is the jewel in the crown of the liturgical year. It is the pinnacle.

"Peace be with you", "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age," (Matthew 28:19). These were some of the first words of the risen Christ.

It was Easter Sunday and Mary Magdalene had just told the apostles about the empty tomb, the angels, and her encounter with Jesus, risen from the dead. Rushing to the mountain where they were to see him, Peter and the others must have wondered what awaited them.

Was this all some crazy joke? Would Jesus really be alive? If so, would he chastise them for abandoning him at his crucifixion? Would he appear ghost-like? Or would he appear human and life-like, bearing the horrific wounds he suffered on the Cross? These are all natural questions in a quite frankly extraordinary situation.

Imagine their surprise when Jesus’ first words were to offer him his peace and to command them to make disciples and baptize.

No small talk. No casting aspersions on the disciples’ and their lack of faith and commitment; it was simply time for them to get on with the mission Jesus had been preparing them for. They were to go out to all nations and all peoples and proclaim the gospel - and baptize all who came to conversion and belief in the risen Lord. And Jesus promised to be with them always.

It was a massive challenge to go out to the wider world and make disciples; traveling great distances and going into new, and often hostile, towns and cities to share this incredible news. Even with Christ’s promise of accompaniment, it was immensely difficult. Most of the disciples were martyred for their faith; remaining firm and steadfast to the end, trusting in the risen Christ they themselves had seen. It cost them their lives, but they knew they were batting for the winning team.

Being a disciple today is different in many ways, but also similar in other ways.

Mercifully, the hostility Christians face today is quite different from that faced by the first disciples. Martyrdom for one’s faith is now rare, though sadly not entirely absent in some parts of the world. But broadly speaking, despite some hostility, challenge, and cynicism - which Christians are called to tackle head on in a spirit of love and humility - it is a safer place to be a Christian.

The pandemic has also brought challenges for Christians. We, and many people of other faiths, have had to endure not being able to enjoy communal worship during much of the pandemic. This has been challenging and particularly difficult for those who place great significance on communal worship and on being present in church. For Catholic Christians like me, we believe in the presence of Jesus, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. You cannot get that at home. Furthermore, Catholic churches are consecrated places of worship. It is a sacred space.

As I write this, we are preparing to return to our churches for communal worship. It is a delightful prospect.

And for many of us it maybe feels a bit like running up that mountain to see the risen Christ. I wonder what he makes of it all: the pandemic, the closure of churches, the inability of people being able to congregate in his honour?

These aren’t questions I can answer. But what I do know is that Jesus’ message for us will include that offer of perfect peace, that great commission to go and make disciples of all nations and take his message of love and hope to the four corners of the earth, and a promise that he is always with us.

As we emerge from another lockdown and survey the damage wrought upon us by Covid - the lives lost, the families broken, the loneliness and isolation, the jobs lost - I believe we can rise up from it and build a stronger, more loving, more peaceful and more connected society.

The world in Jesus’ time was no picnic. And yet, despite the challenges, the disciples managed to take his message of peace to new ears. And that message has continued to resonate and make new disciples up to the present day.

In a ravaged world, this Easter can be a beacon of hope. May Christ’s message of peace and his promise to be with us for all time penetrate a society brought to its knees and may all Christians heed the call to be messengers of hope for all people and all nations.

All is not lost, there is hope.

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