By Canon Gerry Conroy
More and more people are getting the vaccine now and as more get it we are moving closer to realising our hope of getting back to some semblance of what was normal life. Some experts even think that by June we should be done with most of the restrictions. But things are by no means perfect, we also hear warnings of a third wave and more deaths despite the vaccine. It’s easy to become impatient at the delay as we wait for the vaccine to work its magic.
That, however, is not such a big change from the rest of life. It is not such a big difference from how we approach our faith either. We want our faith to work its magic immediately and when it doesn’t we become impatient with it; we can find ourselves questioning it and doubting it. The words in the Gospel about the Son of Man being lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert are part of Christ’s response to the search of Nicodemus who came to Jesus in the night to ask him questions because he didn’t understand Jesus but he did recognise that there was something special about him. Now Jesus has this terrible habit of speaking cryptically, letting us see something of the truth but leaving us feeling the need to search for more. We can guess Jesus is referring to himself on the cross, but the cross isn’t the easiest place to find faith in Jesus as the Messiah, in fact St Paul referred to it as a stumbling block to faith. Most of us would find faith in God easier of it were based on power and glory, on an easy life for those who believed and if life was harsh and unrelenting for those who didn’t believe. Sometimes it seems the exact opposite, sometimes we seem to have to wait for ever for God to act or for good to triumph. It’s like the vaccine: we don’t see clear effects yet.
But it’s more than that, because the cross isn’t where we would normally look for the type of salvation that we often pray for. Perhaps God is saying something different to us, something we struggle to understand – as did Nicodemus. Sometimes we look to faith to alleviate our fears and uncertainty, to reassure us. What we are looking for is a certainty in the face of life, but what we are offered is mystery, not mystery in the sense of uncertainty, but mystery in the sense of something wonderful and beautiful that we stand before in wonder and awe. Christ goes on to explain the cross to us in terms of love. Love too needs that mystery in it; love has a certainty, but without the mystery there is something missing, something about a lack of respect for the other person as other than us, something about the true beauty of that person.
It is a different approach to life than we often find, even than we often seek. In looking for certainty, perhaps for a sense of safety or control, we can miss something essential in life, we can miss that mystery that is the opportunity of opening to a deeper more joyful life. We have to be patient as we wait for the vaccine to do its work; we have to be patient as we wait for God to do his work. Faith is about how we wait: it’s about the trust and hope in God’s love for us. The depth of that is something we can only discover given time and faith. Life, like Lent, is a journey into that Easter Mystery of God, a journey from darkness into light.
Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton