In the recent past, some in our government argued that the opening up of our country on Easter is a beautiful idea to get us going again. Though I understood the sentiment, many others begged to differ and rightly so. After a week of reflection on that idea, that specific concept passed. That was a good thing. The idea now has been significantly recast. With the announcement that we all must take the pandemic more seriously and need to settle in for a long-term battle, perspectives have changed for many of us, even as we still do not know quite how long this battle will last. It may even be that Easter surrounds the period of peak numbers for the United States. However, to see Easter just as an expression of general individual or national earthly hope is less than ideal. In terms of new life and a new way of looking at life, Easter ultimately is not about a single day on the calendar for celebration and remembrance. It is about a way of life.
I get the positivity and share the aspiration for Easter to be a symbol of national recovery. The desire proclaims the defiant hope of an end to our current traumatic trial with a plague. Defiant hope is what Easter is also about, but it is more––the hope of authentic, enduring life, even out of surrounding, omnipresent death. It reflects the urge to get life going again in ways that are far more normal that what being “sheltered in” requires. We all get that impulse for interaction as each day passes, especially for mothers and fathers with young children trying to cope with the cooped-up zoo their homes have become in our current new (ab)normal. It aims at getting our economic engine running again after being screeched almost to a full stop. And it also reflects a recognition that spiritual resources are part of what the country needs, especially in recent, unprecedented times when our daily life calendar also had driven many of us to distraction when it comes to God.
But the goal as a top priority also falls short and not just because we need to flatten the curve before we open things up.
First, the hard situation where we find ourselves is also an important reminder that we are mortal and the world works best when we work together. We need each other far more than we have shown lately. We have far less control of our lives than we think. We are not gods. This is a time to get our corporate act together and show mutual care. Tackling such a massive challenge forces us to do this. The very divisiveness of our tribalism that has plagued our country, and even in places the church, cannot drive the solutions we need to overcome this formidable invisible enemy. This is a reminder about what we need to get through what we are facing. We need a serious application of the Great Commandment––Love God with all that you are and love your neighbor as yourself. Such selflessness is what tells us we should stay in our homes out of care and be careful about reentry––for as long as it takes. We most need not to spread the virus (again) and to protect our neighbors out of love. To care about life, to be pro-life in its fullest sense, means that we need to be sure we are protecting life before and as we seek to relaunch our former, normal lives.
Second, there is how Scripture deals with the topic of plague. Such uncontrollable calamity often is an indication from God that we need to pause and reflect about how we have lived, to seek and lament in the pain of our morality so evident in the climbing toll we cannot avoid and that brings terror to so many. Plague can mean it is time to learn lessons. Short circuiting our need for instruction is not a good idea. Hard lessons sometimes take time to learn so as to bring the alterations they require. Just going back to what we were will not be good enough after we pass through the current wave of suffering. One thing this time can do is allow for such reflection. As we zoom away to continue to feel connected, it may be worth it to slow down. It may do us good to land for a while to reflect on what really matters and what should change about how we lived.
Third, to have focused symbolically and just nationally on Easter could have distorted the very holiday that Resurrection Day is. Easter is about life out of death, not prematurely living so more death will follow. Easter is a reminder we need God and He alone is the ultimate answer to our need for life. To nationalize that holiday too much risks making Easter serve our nation, not have our nation consider turning to God. When the church seeks to gather and brand its holiday for the sake of believers’ national or political hopes at the risk of our neighbor’s health, we take attention from the gospel’s global nature as an outreach to those who do not yet share our faith but need it because they could benefit from it (yet another application of the Great Commandment). It risks making us forget that our faith is a global one comprised of many nations and people and not just our own national privatized faith. It kidnaps the message of that day, namely that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish but can have eternal life. To meet on Easter as an aspiration for our national need could short circuit the spiritual message for all people about a life that conquers death after death comes. The misleading substitute is a claim that what really matters is getting this earthly life going again just as it was lived before. In its exchange of earth and nation for heaven, the outreach to all others, and the lasting presence of God, it demeans what Easter is about—reconnecting with God because all our hearts need mending. Only He is the one who can fix what is wrong with us, all of us, whether we live or die and no matter where we live.
So let us all, especially believers, love life and our neighbors enough to stay in place where we are as long as we need to stop or significantly slow the plague. Let us hope and pray for the world we live in and not just ourselves. Let us use the time to reflect on why life is so precious to all of us and how we all can do better in how we engage with each other when this plague passes. May we celebrate the aftermath of this most unusual Easter with the focus on God and his program for all people. And may we live in its light by how we love God and others in this challenging moment. Let’s bring Easter to life beyond Easter Sunday, and do it with hope for all. For our gospel is about an endless hope that extends even beyond death. It is a gospel that no virus can tame.