April 11th: In this Together
I’ve been thinking for several weeks about how to think about Easter this year. As followers of Jesus, the heart of our faith is our confidence that the Holy One is Sovereign, that Divine love is stronger than the grave, and that the last word on all life is God’s. Nothing about coronavirus should shake our faith in that.
At the same time, everything this year will be different about our celebrations of the resurrection. Everything feels more poignant, with new overtones of meaning. Several weeks ago, many of us read about Lazarus coming out from the tomb, and this week we will hear about another empty grave, even as we remain cooped up and closeted. The tomb has a new feeling this year. We have put our society into a “medically induced coma,” as one economist describes it, purposely reducing its activity to nearly nothing so that healing may occur. We know better than usual this year what three days in a grave might feel like.
Further, though we all always know we live under the shadow of death, this year it becomes easier to connect with the fear and loneliness of that knowledge. I may have to work harder to experience Easter this year, but the meaning of Good Friday has rarely been more clear. The day the earth stood still. The day hope seemed extinguished. The day the community of followers all dispersed, running off to their separate, lonely hideouts.
Holy Week this year comes with a new moral edge, too. In our civic life, this week began with Mayor Lightfoot giving a press conference highlighting the racial and economic disparities of the pandemic. African American residents of Chicago are far more likely to contract and to die from COVID-19 than others. This is not because of a genetic predisposition to the illness. Rather, it is because of social vulnerabilities built into our economic, employment, and health care networks. Communities that are already more chronically underserved become more vulnerable to this illness, as well. There is evidence that immigrant populations are suffering more because of fear of deportation and discrimination. Asian Baptist leaders in the area are reporting racial discrimination and harassment based on racist beliefs that they are somehow to blame.
Resurrection is the heart of Christianity. Its message transforms us both existentially and morally. Existentially, “He is risen!” means that life wins, that God’s love gives God’s children everlasting significance that death cannot erase. Morally, “He is risen!” means Divine values are to reign — not the values of the powers and principalities. The Resurrection stands in judgment of our society, asking those questions of the Great Criteria: did you feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, tend to the sick, and liberate the captive? In one way, the meaning of Easter may be more obscure this year. In another, it has seldom been clearer.
After the lonely deaths and the grief, most cruel about this pandemic is its corrosion of community. Just like the arrest of Jesus, it has sent us all scurrying to our respective hideouts. Of course, this is necessary to fight the virus. But it is so hard on us to be apart. We are again learning that we are meant to be together. The community is the instrument of God’s kin-dom coming. So we are finding new ways to be together virtually. We are learning lessons about togetherness that we can hang on to after this pandemic has passed us. Ways of being together that will continue to allow us to subvert the patriarchy. Ways of being together that can remind us that we not finally alone.
So Sunday, as one says “Christ is risen,” know that we are all responding together, “He is risen indeed!” We do not have to be together to be together. We do not have to co-locate to unite. And if by Pentecost we are graced to be together again in body, we will feel the reassurance that we have been together in spirit all along.
Further resources for churches
Facebook has put together a “Faith on Facebook Toolkit,” that describes a number of ways the platform can help communities of faith continue to deepen their community and outreach.
The denomination (IM, ABHMS, OGS) is finding and providing some Asian language versions of various COVID-19 resources, including in Burmese, Chin, Telugu, and Karen. You can find all of these resources on our COVID19 Response page.
Rev. David Gregg