Easter Sunday Reflection
Over the period of Lent, wrought so harshly by the terrible affliction of Covid-19, I have often thought about Samuel Pepys, who lived through the Bubonic plague of 1665. As the Rector of St Olave Hart Street, it is not only fitting, but fascinating, that I muse on Pepys, as I work through the diaries.
Rather like Pepys, I am able to access the gallery directly from the rectory – Pepys had some kind of bridge to the upper gallery from the naval offices on Seething Lane. This provides a peaceful and beautiful vantage point for prayer and worship, with and on behalf of all of you, as I am able to look towards the beautiful stained-glass east window depicting Christ crucified and Christ risen.
In Pepys’ time, The Bubonic Plague of 1665 killed an estimated 31,159 people, 15% of the total population, 527 of whom are buried in our churchyard at St Olave. Pepys notes with sadness that some of his close friends and colleagues have themselves been taken, and increasingly notes the fatal spread of the plague:
'Thus this month ends with great sadness upon the publick through the greatness of the plague everywhere through the kingdom almost. Every day sadder and sadder news of its increase'. (31 August 1665).
We are living through an unprecedented occurrence, a state of fear and lockdown; fear of others; fear for our loved ones; fear for those who serve in the NHS and in public service, of whom too many have been taken.
Jesus’ own disciples, lived in fear and terror, following his brutal crucifixion before their very eyes. They stare death in its face, fearing they too may be arrested and executed, for following Jesus. On the day of resurrection, Mary Magdalene arrives early, to tend the tomb of Jesus. Her inner world, her thoughts can only have been shrouded in darkness, expressed most poignantly in the words: “They have taken my Lord away!”
On that first day of resurrection, it is still physically dark. She is still in the deep clutch of grief, horror and disbelief of what has happened. The images of brutality would have given anyone who witnessed them nightmares and mental turmoil for years to come. For her it is dark, dark, dark, in her inner being.
Holy Saturday, yesterday, reminds us of the need to wait patiently for the dawn. And then comes that time when we discover that God is not absent, even in the darkness. Something has changed. The light begins to flicker.
At the time of the plague, people lived in isolation, mourning and privation, but we sense a note of hope and relief on New Year’s Eve 1665, as Pepys writes:
‘But many of such as I know very well, dead; yet, to our great joy, the town fills apace, and shops begin to be open again’.
Pepys’ tone is hopeful and propitiates that life will resume, albeit slowly. We too wait in the hope of resurrection, in the confidence that light is stronger than darkness, that our prayers before God sustain us and keep us in a place of light amidst our daily struggles.
For Mary, suddenly from the flicker of uncertainty, the light dawns; she can finally perceive it is Jesus. He is alive and he addresses her by name. She has seen the light; her Lord and Master is alive. Her deepest hopes have more than come to fruition.
This Easter may we live in the hopeful truth of Jesus’ resurrection that light is stronger than darkness, as John begins and ends his gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).