In the post-resurrection narrative of Luke 24:13-35, the Risen Christ, unknown to the two disciples journeying to the village of Emmaus asks them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” As the world and the Caribbean region grapple seriously with managing the spread of the Coronavirus, the imposed restrictions have gravely impacted both Church and Society. In this forced exile experience, Pope Francis hears a similar question posed to the two disciples. On our behalf, Pope Francis responds, “Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost” (Extraordinary Moment of Prayer, March 27, 2020). We are living in a liminal space characterized by a feeling of powerlessness, that is, not knowing or not having complete control over the present circumstances. This liminal space calls for an intense dialogue with God, our ancestors, and each other.
In this COVID -19 situation, we are facing a VUCA environment. The acronym stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. These are volatile times because of the rapid rate of changes – the mutation and rapid spread of the virus and the disciplinary changes instituted both by the Church and the state to address the rising number of positive cases. There is also uncertainty, that is, the Church and state are both unclear about how to respond to the present or even the future. As Bishop Clyde Harvey writes, “The future is both intimidating and challenging. What will the church be? Who will we be?” We are also living and pastoring in complex times due to multiple key decision factors – spiritual, psychological, social and physical factors – that ought to be considered in the Church’s pastoral care. Finally, these are ambiguous times in which there is lack of clarity about the meaning of this unprecedent moment in history. Our present VUCA environment is very similar, but not as painfully intense and protracted, to the suffering and powerlessness that our ancestors endured during slavery, indentureship, and colonialism. Perhaps, the current VUCA environment is psychologically painful because we are now forced to institute “social distancing” after struggling for centuries to create community and social cohesion which was forbidden and/or outlawed during slavery. Notwithstanding, this moment calls us to draw inspiration and empowerment from our ancestors of faith and blood ancestors, and learn from them wisdom lessons to face our current powerlessness.
As the Church traverses this time of suffering, the Church must remember that at the heart of our proclamation of the Risen Christ is the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to live a new kind of existence, “a life of communion and compassion instead of isolation and oppression” (Mary Ann Fatula). This new life in Christ prohibits the Church from being indifferent to suffering. Instead, the Church heeds the call of St. Paul, “. . . weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). For we believe that Christ shares our suffering, and in the Church’s pastoral work to heal the causes of suffering, Christ is also hard at work. Despite, the fragile and disoriented state of our clergy and laity, we must not yield to become indifferent to suffering. Rather, we can use our own suffering to be in solidarity with those who suffer.
In the face of the suffering caused by powerlessness, the Church also faces the mystery of human existence. As one woman remarked, “Father, if God has made us a ‘little less than a god’ according to the Psalmist, then why have we been brought down so low by this microbe?” The mystery of the human existences is that we have power, rooted in the gift of reason, but not absolute power. This reality of our human existence, therefore, ought to inspire complete surrender or humility, leading to prayer, that is, crying out to the Creator like the Psalmist who wails, “Out of the depts I cry to you O LORD; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy” (Psalm 130:1 – 2). Amid our lack of complete understanding, humility ought to drive us to also dialogue with God in order to discern God’s wisdom for a new meaning of human existence arising from our powerlessness.
The narrative of Luke 24: 13- 35 is instructive to the Church living is this VUCA environment. As a community, the Church remains faithful to prayer, that is, expressing and articulating its inner pain, discomfort, and misery, and yet listening to Christ’s response. As with the Risen Christ we utilize this period of “forced exile” to establish a dialogue between our current COVID situation of powerlessness and the wisdom of the Sacred Scriptures. In this dialogue, we are sure to find new meaning and new ways of living. One example of this new ways of living is the exercise of hospitality, that is, “You make room in your heart, room in your life, room in the moment for one person, with no strings attached” (Lonni Pratt, Radical Hospitality). In the post resurrection narrative, the hospitality of the Risen Christ and eventually the two disciples, revealed in a rich dialogue among them, opened the disciples’ eyes of faith to see the light of hope and inspired them to return and reconcile with the Christian community.
As the Church journeys through this ‘thick darkness,’ the scripture readings and rituals of Holy Week, despite our virtual participation, allows us enter this dialogue or prayer experience in complete surrender, thus allowing the wisdom of our ancestors of faith to shape a new Church. The insight of John Main is instructive, “Christians, in their prayer, renounce their own power. . . they place absolute faith in the power of Christ as the only power that increases the unity among all human beings because it is the power of love, the power of union itself” (World Into Silence). Therefore, the juxtaposition of this forced exile with the celebration of Holy Week becomes a watershed moment within which the Church can be inspired to form a post-Covid-19 Church that is constantly in dialogue with Christ, our ancestors and each other.