The Daily Bread, 6th April 2020
Readings: Isaiah 42:1-7; Psalm 26(27):1-3,13-14; John 12:1-11
Today, I would like to offer some words on the Responsorial Psalm we have heard. It is a beautiful psalm of encouragement and hope. It begins:
The Lord is my light and my help;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
before whom shall I shrink?
We could replace the word “whom” with “what” in our present circumstances: “what shall I fear? Before what shall I shrink?” The coronavirus? Not at all! I will not fear or shrink from that! Why? Because the Lord is my light and my help and the stronghold of my life.
He is the Light that provides me with the vision to see beyond my fear. Fear flourishes in the dark, during the night. When the Light comes, the fear is shown up for what it is, a mere nothing. No matter what power it claims, its power is nothing in comparison to the Lord who is my help. How is He my help? Because He loves me and “perfect love drives out fear.” Because He is with me, so that if I walk through the valley of death “no evil would I fear.” He is there with His crook and staff. How often in life, the best help we receive from others is simply their presence, their being there with us! And the Lord is always with us, for He is “I Am”, meaning, “I Am here with you, and you are here with me.” This is His covenant with us, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Always.
He is not only there before or in front of us, but He surrounds us. We are in Him. He is our stronghold. Think of those underground safes in banks made of reinforced concrete and steel. The Lord is such a stronghold, but much stronger and not under, but over, ground. He is not hiding as evil does and as fear makes us do. He is out there, up there, in the Light, our fortress, our refuge, our defender.
When evil-doers draw near
to devour my flesh,
it is they, my enemies and foes,
who stumble and fall.
Here is a splendid description of the coronavirus, an “evil-doer drawing near to devour my flesh”! But even if it devours my flesh, I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. It might think it has won, but the Lord, my Light and Help, defeats it utterly. It is not me, but the virus, “my enemy and foe” who “stumbles and falls.” To use words of the prophet Jeremiah, “utter disgrace and everlasting defeat” will be its fate, for the Lord “stands at my side, a Mighty Hero.”
Though an army encamp against me
my heart would not fear.
Though war break out against me
even then would I trust.
No army of viruses, no war they might start, no apparent victory over my flesh foolishly claimed, will make my heart fear or break my trust. For nothing will ever come between me and the love of Jesus Christ, be it death or life, trouble or distress, sickness or weakness, be it any height or depth or any power past, present or future. For all things come under His rule. He is before all things and after all things, the Alpha and the Omega. And so, like David before Goliath and the Philistine army, I will be fearless. Indeed, I will not just strike the virus on its forehead, but utterly crush it with the stone that was rolled away from the tomb of the Risen Christ.
I am sure I shall see the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living.
Hope in him, hold firm and take heart.
Hope in the Lord!
I am sure. I am certain. I am utterly convinced. I am without doubt. I am without hesitation. I am without confusion or fear. I will see the Lord’s goodness. I will see it. Where will I see it? In the land of the living. Are the mortal living? Can our life really come to fruition if it is mortal? Yes, but not in the land of the mortal, not in the land where death still holds sway. To want to live life for ever only among the mortal is to deny life its true fruition. Only in the land of immortal living will I see in its fullness the Lord’s goodness. St. Paul called death “gain” for this reason. The dead are only dead to those who are alive with mortal life. To the land of the living, the “dead” are not dead but free from death, alive with immortal life. The Lord’s goodness is His life, His immortal divine life shared with me. Life is only safe and saved when it is beyond the sway of death. We can delay death, yes, for a time, but it will always be only a brief time. And if we long for the Lord’s goodness, we will want it to be as brief a time as possible.
And so, our hope in the Lord is our triumph. Hope is not a vague “let’s hope so” or an empty optimism. It is a certainty rooted in the Lord’s resurrection from the dead. We can hope because the reality of death has, as a matter of historical fact, been utterly destroyed by Jesus Christ. Because of this hope we can hold firm no matter what life throws at us. We can take heart, because He has given us His Heart, meek and gentle but strong and ablaze with a love that is better than life itself, stronger than death itself.
Covid-19 could take our mortal life from us and, in our natural anxiety and fear of death, it can make us live with a constant and low-intensity apprehension. But in the great scheme of things, that is, in the perspective of the victory of Christ over death and in the establishment of the resurrection, its “victory” over us is, in fact, its own defeat.
To face our mortality does not mean merely to shake at our limitedness. It means much more than that: to tremble with anticipation at the joy which lies beyond it and to prepare ourselves spiritually to receive it.