It is very hard to reflect on our monastic year of renewal without seeing it in the context of how our whole world will be changed and renewed by this time of pandemic. Renewal has everything to do with hope and confidence, and grasping a vision for the future. But how can we feel any of these things when week after week we are in lockdown, cut off perhaps from family and friends, fearful for our jobs and for the economy, and discouraged by gloomy stories in the newspapers? Rather than exuding hope and confidence, we are perhaps more likely to feel sad and listless.
For us now in Massachusetts, the winter is finally over, and these last few days have seen the glorious coming of spring, with trees bursting into leaf and blossom. The winter has been destroyed. Death has been conquered. As the leaves and flowers burst forth, so Jesus burst forth from the tomb. “Behold I make all things new!” There are so many reasons right now in our world why our own hearts might feel frozen or wintry: anxiety, restlessness, uncertainty, loneliness, grief. Yet the Risen Lord is longing to draw near to us, and to draw us ever closer to the fire of his love. He longs to warm our hearts with hope and joy. In the words of the hymn, “When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain, thy touch can call us back to life again.”
In this Easter season, the Risen Lord is surely urging us to lift up our eyes to see beyond the considerable challenges which face us; to lift up our eyes of faith and, in our founder Father Benson’s words, to “look to the Glory.” Some years ago, the famous art historian Kenneth Clark produced a very popular BBC series and book entitled Civilization. It was his belief that all the great civilizations of the world came to an end, not because of wars or hostilities, but because they simply ran out of energy, and they then lost their confidence. I think we may be facing such a challenge today. Will our world, our civilization, recover its confidence and creative energy? Will we as a society discover a new strength and collective vision for the future? More personally, how might each one of us, as followers of Jesus, play our part in ensuring that this new vision for humanity embodies the Biblical vision, God’s vision, of peace and justice for all?
Some days we may just feel sad and listless, rather like those first disciples gathered together after the crucifixion, behind locked doors, full of fear. But God has planted in our hearts the precious gift of hope. If, as some have said, this year presents the greatest challenge to our world since the Second World War, I feel intrigued and personally challenged to ask how this may also be a year of great renewal, and how I may play my part. The gift of hope can renew our vision, recover our confidence, and restore our strength. The gift of hope, most fundamentally, assures us that we are not alone, but that the “Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and ah! bright wings.”