“Look at the nations and see! Be astonished! Be astounded! For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told.” Habakkuk 1:5
Rarely have the deep meanings of Good Friday and Easter brushed so closely in ordinary human experience. So, too, Jews celebrating the Passover movement from confinement to freedom say, “Maybe this year we’ll get it.” Tragedy abounds; one can’t imagine the heartbreak for those dying separated from loved ones—sadness on both sides of the hospital walls. No need to add to the list of miseries quarantine and unemployment brings—everyone has probably read and heard enough. It resonates to know that on the eve of his passion, “Jesus was deeply troubled.” (Jn. 13:21)
Everyone has a personal favorite story of the heroism and creativity emerging from the crisis. Craft breweries retool to make hand sanitizer, businesses that once made other things now produce ventilators and protective equipment, restaurants deliver gourmet meals to hospital staffs, who are heroes in their own right. It was admittedly a slow start, but now everyone seems to be jumping aboard, with humorists and cartoonists helping us to sometimes laugh at this weird, vulnerable predicament.
Still, a caution: let’s not rush to resurrection. It may be glib to start finding silver linings as so many still suffer. Jesus in the Garden of Olives clearly wanted to avoid the terrible pain and leap ahead to the glory. But his story didn’t go that way; neither will ours. There may be much more to learn from quarantine before we make happy plans for “when it’s over,” a vague, uncertain future.
The learning might begin by asking, “what’s left when everything is taken away?” Most folks shore themselves up by what’s on the calendar: this meeting, that lunch, this party, that trip, this class, worship, deadline or presentation, that time with friends, this sport or exercise, that family gathering.
Nothing wrong with any of it. But this year there will be none of it: no Easter brunches nor dinners, no egg hunts nor church services with choirs belting out Alleluias. And for many, this year will bring far worse agonies: loss of income, terrible illness, anxiety over the survival of a beloved, separation from the sick, bottomless loneliness or grief. Crucifixion takes many forms.
When we remove the usual markers of identity, who are we then? Ah, there’s the Easter mystery. Still beloved, still redeemed, despite losing all that once defined and protected us. Because God’s love is unbounded and endless, we need no other security nor success. What’s left? the quiet beauty of nature, alertness to the surprising ways that love might enter each day, sensitivity to surprising good news that can filter even into this horrific time.