Our Best Prayers – Pat Nogoy, SJ

Easter Sunday 2020

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The first Easter morning is the least consoling. It is welcomed with loss—those who woke up early in the morning to anoint their beloved dead with honest tears and deep grief. This loss was made worse by sudden fear—the dead is no longer there, the tomb empty. Loss and fear were compounded by confusion—Where is the body? Soldiers? Who turned the stone away? What should have been a quiet mourning was agitated into a shocking morning. This Easter daybreak appears closer to our present pandemic sunrise—we count bodies of our loved ones with tears and grief, we are easily stirred into fear and confusion by an uncertain future and a plethora of fake news. We are confused—lost—anxious about the effects of mitigation and long stages of finding a cure, uncertainty of life and economy returning to normal, and political briefings that frequently turn out to be streams of consciousness, juvenile catfights, and one bad prognosis after another. We have been coping with the shock of our mornings—the sudden new normal. And we cry out for meaning, assurance, and hope—where is God?

Where is God, if He is not in the tomb? Where has he gone? At Easter daybreak, we see Mary running to the people whom she thinks and knows can help. They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t where they have put him? Listen closely to her account—it is her personal report about the facts. Somebody took the Lord. For Mary, facts point to a case of disrespectful theft—a heist so slick and sinister that it hardly left a clue as to where to begin finding the body. The shock of our morning has induced some (if not, most) of us to mix facts with fiction. Or, driven by fear and anxiety, form our personal accounts of raw events and pass them on with intense conviction. Stories evolve and the best ones have elicited plenty of followers. What did Peter and the other disciple do? They ran to the tomb. One may think that they are to “fact-check”. But it was deeper than that. Mary’s story and concern, however acute, were tangential to their intention. For Peter and the other disciple, who had been intimate with the Lord— close enough to hear His repeated prophecies and promises—it was a different kind of authentication. The motive was promise-checking. They ran hard, went inside the tomb, saw and believed. It was a promise fulfilled!

The gift of Easter morning is wrapped in a hope realised (i.e. a promise fulfilled). This can only be received and enjoyed by remembering. One of the fundamental and strangest things about Christian faith is that it moves forward by looking back. It pushes back against the threats of evil and suffering by remembering what it has heard, seen, and touched. Christian truth is not exclusively an object of thought, a matter of good stories to be passed on, or a set of propositions to be analysed. For us, children of Easter morn, the truth is alive and it is given as a deposit. We only have to remember.

Fredrick Buechner advises us that we must go where our best prayers take us. But what makes prayers best? I think if in these prayers, we have intimate encounters with the Risen Lord through His promises and prophecies for us. These memories—where we are so vulnerable and honest—sustain whatever faith we have, enough to push us forward. If we aspire to hold Easter joy amidst our lamentations for the sudden loss of control and raw reality of illness and death, we have to draw deep, unafraid, from the wealth of

our best prayers. Peter and the other disciple ran hard towards the tomb, almost unmindful of the dangers that they might have met, with only a deposit of memories—little faith already deflated by loss, fear, and confusion but never extinguished. Their best prayers were but a stubborn holding onto the promises made to them by the Risen One who loves them until the very end. They went in, saw, and believed.

What have been your best prayers? Where have they taken you? Have they taken you out of fear and anxiety of the present and pushed you to run with life and hope?

God is alive and risen. He is not stolen nor hidden away from us. That is the powerful message and the greatest gift of Easter morning—a promise fulfilled. In remembering, Peter and the other disciple had come to an understanding that God is alive and thus, they recognised a revealed truth already found in the scriptures: He ought to rise from the dead. Likewise, we can come to an understanding and recognition of the Risen Lord through our best prayers. Allow them to take us to face our toughest challenges, not agitated with fear, loss, and confusion but moved with sober love. Children of Easter morn we are and we soldier on in caring for a world that continues to be terribly ill, armed with renewed hope, creative service, and compassionate consolation.

*Image from the Internet

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