Looking at the COVID-19 Pandemic through the Lens of Easter
by Rev. Dr. Al Fuertes
Easter as we know is a time of jubilation. It is a reminder for those who are feeling helpless, discouraged, and afraid because of pain, problems, and challenges – that life has its brighter side as well. Easter is “light at the end of the tunnel” for those who may have been overwhelmed by life’s circumstances, including those who may have already lost their sense of meaning and purpose in life. Easter brings a message of hope and possibilities for millions of people around the world who have been displaced due to armed conflict or war or natural disaster. Easter evokes a sense of optimism for those who may have been discriminated against because of the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their beliefs, their class, and socio-cultural and political status. At the same time, Easter serves as a rebuke for those who cause pain and suffering of others. Easter is also a call to repentance and transformation for those who welcome its salvific message. For Christians around the world, Easter is great, wonderful news, that needs to be spread out in words, in thoughts, and in deeds. Hence, the celebration of Easter is a call to mission.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ marks the triumph of God’s power over the evil intentions of those who killed and crucified Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection signifies God’s act of justice in response to Jesus’ cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” From the perspective of the disciples and the early followers of Jesus, they found redemption in Jesus’s resurrection, especially on what happened in Golgotha where many of them may have felt extremely humiliated and embarrassed, and perhaps even lost or questioned their beliefs over the death of their teacher. Many were terrified and felt they lost their message and sense of mission. Hence, Saturday was considered to be the day of silence for they just did not know what to do knowing full well that their teacher and Lord had just been crucified and in the grave. But at Easter, passion, and mourning have become promise and hope.
The evidence of Jesus’ resurrection lies not on the empty tomb per se for it could be argued that it was vandalized or burglarized. The evidence of Jesus’ resurrection lies in the fact that there was proof of life!!! Jesus appeared to the women who came to visit the tomb. He appeared to his disciples on their journey to Emmaus. Jesus also appeared when the disciples had supper and he gave them bread, which reminded the disciples of the last supper they had with Jesus – THAT WAS THE MOMENT. That was the moment when they truly realized that their teacher had risen from the dead.
Christians today consider Easter as the triumph of life over death. It signifies that God’s love is more powerful than human hatred.
However, for many of us around the world today, especially those who are deeply affected or impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea that life is stronger than death might seem far-fetched if not, too soon to be embraced and believed in. With the number of COVID-19 cases that keep on rising every day, with countless deaths each day, not to mention the tens and thousands of those who are currently fighting for their lives, Easter might not be a day of celebration. We have burials without funerals, lonely deaths without the presence of loved ones and friends by their side when they made their last breath. We have hundreds of thousands of grieving families around the world who could not even extend physical support like a hug or an embrace to one other because of the quarantine and physical or social distancing and isolation mandate. People are grieving on their own with no comfort in sight. What does Jesus’ resurrection mean for those who are grieving and in deep pain?
When the women excitingly informed the male disciples about Jesus’ resurrection, the latter was not ready to receive the good news. Many were still overwhelmed by grief and fear over Jesus’ death. It was even more difficult for them to pretend as if things were ok when the fact was that they still needed more time to grieve and make sense of what has happened. No matter how much the women disciples tried to convince their fellow disciples of what they have discovered in the tomb, it would take time for those who were still in pain to embrace wholeheartedly the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. We can be with the rest of the world in celebrating Easter, but deep inside, we know that many are not ready to celebrate it wholeheartedly. Cognitively, perhaps, yes. We have to acknowledge that many of our brothers and sisters today are in a period of passion and suffering due to the impact of the pandemic. Many are grieving and there is no amount of Easter or resurrection story that can soothe their deep sense of loss or fear and anxiety.
We hear many of our brothers and sisters echoing the prayer and lament of Jesus Christ, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” Collectively, people are lamenting, “Our God, our God, why do you seem to abandon us in these times of the pandemic?”
With his cry, Jesus heard and answered people’s cries. Through his death, Jesus amplified their cries. Jesus’ cry on the cross was not only on his behalf but a way of interceding on behalf of those who have been suffering and in deep pain. In this cry, Jesus was one with the sick and grieving families. He was one with the poor and the oppressed of the world. Yes, Jesus cried out for God’s justice on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? And God answered Jesus’s faithful cry with the most powerful act of justice yet. God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to sit with the authority at the right hand of God. God’s justice was not of vengeance nor retaliation. God’s justice was of redemption and vindication. It was to demonstrate to those who crucified Jesus literally and symbolically the message that Life is stronger than death. And that love is more powerful than hate. This is the turning point.
Amidst sorrow and despair, Jesus during his life and ministry raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. He went about healing the sick, restoring human dignity to those who were being discriminated against during his time by mainstream society and all the powers that be. He defied the Sabbath law and other regulations to extend humanitarian services to those in need. He empowered the powerless and the destitute during his time. He turned the world value system upside down for the sake of preserving and promoting human dignity. He befriended those whom society considered to be enemies and outcasts. He transformed the lives of those rich and influential individuals who welcomed him. These and many more are all resurrection stories, which imply that every- day is Easter day. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was the culmination of all the resurrection moments mentioned above.
Like the women disciples who became the first ambassadors of the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, we, too are called to do the same. In a world that is in pain, we are called to bring healing. In a world that is broken and fragmented, we are called to help mend and bring wholeness. In a world where millions have been displaced because of war and natural disaster, and are in need of a safe place to live like the refugees and asylum seekers, we are called to welcome them. In a world that faces uncertainty and is overwhelmed by fear, with thousands of deaths every day due to this pandemic, where the number of those infected by the virus continues to go up, we are called to extend whatever we could to be a presence; it could be through donations financial or in kinds, checking in on them and make sure they are OK and letting them feel they are not alone, providing safe and welcoming online spaces for those who need to be part of a support system, extending prayers and positive thoughts and good vibes in various ways possible, to constantly remind our government leaders that this is not the time for politicking, and that they must put people’s lives and well-being above anything else; that government leaders must have a political will to address this pandemic comprehensively. If governments can allocate huge budgets for defense and what have you, they must also do the same, if not, even more to medical and health programs. We are talking about social capital here. In a world that is overwhelmed by confusion, faith communities, and churches must provide the people with comfort and solace, that no matter what happens out there – here inside our faith community, everyone is welcome and taken care of, thus feeling safe and secure.
Having said all those things made me realize that Easter is not just a call to a celebration, instead it is a call to commitment to continue proclaiming the good news not only in words but also in our action. Every day must be an Easter day. Jesus’ resurrection ought to be lived out every single day in our lives. It is not a thing of the past. Every time we extend hope and assurance and healing and opportunities to everyone in thoughts, in words, more so in tangible ways, we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. In the same manner, whenever we let injustice and oppression and greed continue to destroy people’s lives and the natural world, and not do anything to stop them, we also continue to crucify Jesus in our hearts.
Jesus’ resurrection tells us that Life is more powerful than death. It is our responsibility, then, to spread the gospel. Let us be the embodiment of Jesus’ resurrection every day in our lives.
(This reflection, with some modification, was originally delivered during Easter Sunday as a way to make sense of our felt reality.)