House of Bishops Easter pastoral letter 2022

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
Easter is here, and what an important feast it is for Christians. Regretfully, we may not be able to gather together physically this year to celebrate what must be the grandest event of the church year: the long awaited Great Vigil of Easter. Even those who were looking to join our church may not come and be baptised on the night. The pandemic still lingers on in Hong Kong, and abroad we see geopolitical tensions rising in such a way that smothers us in grief. We are, since the conclusion of WWII, yet again staring into the abyss of a catastrophic war, and we are drawn horrifyingly closer to it by the day.
With all these worries hanging above our heads, it may be difficult for us to see the joys of Easter. Like the apostles and the group of women after Jesus’ resurrection, we are left blind to him, and we cannot recognise him. Our hearts are instead filled with disappointment, despair, sadness, and confusion.
As written in the four canonical gospels, Mary Magdalene, together with a group of women, visited Jesus’ tomb and found it empty on Easter morning. In their state of fear and grief, the risen Lord appeared to them, but they could not recognise him. Later that day, Jesus walked with two disciples on the way to Emmaus, and they too were not able to recognise him, as their hearts were filled with sorrow. As the eleven disciples gathered together later that evening, Jesus appeared to them, and their first reactions were that of fear and doubt. The miraculous day left Peter aimless, and he went back to his fishing. At the Sea of Tiberias, even as Jesus appeared on the beach, Peter and many other disciples still could not recognise the risen Christ.
Truly, after Jesus’ resurrection, nobody could recognise him at first sight – not even Mary Magdalene, the most perceptive of Jesus, or the disciples who followed him for three years! But such is what exactly happened with the risen Jesus.
There are many things in our daily lives that we cannot recognise at first sight either, and such is the fact of life. Many cannot recognise their parents’ unconditional love. Many cannot recognise the brutal honesty found in true friendships. Many cannot recognise the harsh lessons of good teacher. And many cannot recognise the support that church and fellowship could give to life.
In the same way, we are graced with countless gifts from our Lord, but it is often the case that we cannot recognise them at first sight. That we can be born, to arrive in this world without complications, to grow up in a criss-cross of friendship and hardship, to be able to stand up again where we once fell, and to have the opportunity to believe and become a believer – all of these are gifts of grace that we often do not recognise.
As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection today, we have to ask ourselves: can we recognise him? Can we say that he is the Jesus that we have seen with our eyes, heard with our ears, and touched with our hands?
Let us take a look at the cases of Mary Magdalene, the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, the eleven disciples, and especially Peter: at what point did they start to recognise the risen Jesus?
When Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene, she thought she was talking to the gardener. It was only when Jesus used the familiar name ‘Mary’ that she recognised him. (John 20:14-15, Luke 24:3-10)
What about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus? They talked with Jesus all the way, but the only thing that occupied their hearts were the flames of disquiet, and they were blind to the resurrection right in front of them. It was not until when they shared dinner, and Jesus repeated the same actions as in the last supper – he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them – that the two disciples opened their eyes and recognised Jesus. (Luke 24:30)
The eleven disciples may have heard the risen Christ saying the words ‘Peace be with you’ to them, but there was no peace, and they thought they saw a ghost. When Jesus showed them those familiar hands that the disciples used to hold, and also his feet, now pierced with the marks of crucifixion, the disciples immediately recognised him, and were filled with joy. (Luke 24:36-41, John 20:19-23)
As for Peter, when we caught nothing at the sea, Jesus appeared and taught him to cast the net to the right of side of the boat. This reminded Peter of what happened three years ago, when Jesus taught him to cast his net into the deep water. At that moment, Peter recognised Jesus. (John 21:9-12)
My brothers and sisters, have you noticed that the disciples and followers opened their eyes the instant they heard, saw, or touched reminders of their previous interactions with Jesus? Such interactions revitalised their lives. By reminding them of their past interactions, Jesus’ own resurrection brought life once again to his disciples and followers, transforming their sadness into joy, doubt into faith, and despair into hope.
How about us? How have we interacted with Christ that we may find our own lives revitalised? Other than such religious experiences as receiving the Lord’s healing, abundance, protection, and having him showing us the way, have we experienced acceptance in this cruel world? Have we ever caught the glimpse of a silver lining when we are clouded in despair? Have we been comforted when we are sunken in sorrow? To tell the truth, we only need to be able to sense Christ’s great work in the most ordinary of our daily moments to recognise the presence of the risen Christ, and to have our lives revitalised.
Christ is risen, and he has already rekindled hope in the midst of us. Throughout this pandemic, do we not see how people in our society were willing to come together and contribute what they could? Our medical professionals, however overworked they may be, still willingly sacrificed their time for the attention of the sick. Does their professionalism not command our respect? Do we not see how our social welfare colleagues toil day and night for those under their care? Do we not see how many of our flock organised support networks in various parishes, providing much needed help to the elderly, the solitary, and the young who come from single parent families?
Do we not already see the resurrection of humanity’s capability in goodness?
Though the drums of war may be heard throughout the world, do we not also hear the increasing pleas for prayer and peace on the Internet? Perhaps you have seen a video on YouTube, where a nine year old Ukrainian girl sang with teary eyes a song of peace, just as her country was shelled with artillery, and her nation’s survival was hanging on a thread. Her sorrowful voice and eyes tell of a dream that humanity has held for a thousand years: the dream for peace.
As we witness all these things, do we not see the glory of humanity reappearing? Do we not see the resurrection of Jesus Christ rekindling in the sparks of human life?
What we fear is not that there are bad examples in this world, but that good examples are nowhere to be found. In this Eastertide, let us rekindle the goodness in our hearts, and set out to be a good example, no matter how insignificant, to all those around us. For goodness has resurrected, and the power of the risen Christ is great indeed. And he shall wipe away all pain, all evil, and all death.
We all long for the day when we can worship again under the same roof of a church, but though we cannot gather physically to celebrate this year’s Easter vigil and Easter day, we know that the celebration of our lives shall ring yet as a hymn, resounding throughout the heavens.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!
++Andrew Chan +Timothy Kwok +Matthias Der