It is Holy Week. For Christians, this is the most sacred time in the liturgical calendar, a time when we acknowledge the death and resurrection of God’s beloved child. It is also Passover, “a night like no other,” when Jews the world over have traditionally gathered in families to honor the past and proclaim a hopeful future.
But this year is different. Because of the coronavirus, one-third of the world’s population is on some type of stay-at-home restrictions, and even family gatherings are limited to 10 or less. Worldwide, more than one and a half million have contracted the virus. 90,000 have died. The United States has, by far, the largest outbreak. How can we celebrate Easter or Passover in a time like this?
Health care professionals and front-line workers engage in extraordinary acts of courage to minister to the stricken. They repeatedly risk their own health and the well-being of their families. Small businesses are decimated as generational investments and lifelong dreams are shattered by the economy’s shut down. Uncertainty about the future wreaks havoc on emotions. Heartbreaking stories are too numerous to tally. How can we celebrate Easter or Passover in a time like this?
And now we are learning that black and brown people in this country are suffering disproportionally. How ironic that laborers once called “unskilled” have become “essential workers.” And, like in so many previous wars, the ranks of those on the front lines are often filled by people of color. Recent revelations about the viral conflagration consuming incarcerated populations at Rikers Island or the Cook County Jail are but harbinger of things to come. Confined populations—in prisons, at sea, in refugee camps and nursing homes—are breeding grounds for the virus where everyone is at risk. How can we celebrate Easter or Passover in a time like this?
We live in dread of what happens to our world if no vaccine is developed in time to ward off a second wave of this disease or when the virus ravages the developing world or the southern hemisphere. Population densities among urban slum dwellers in places like Bangladesh or Nigeria leave individuals especially vulnerable.
And in the midst of all this, life’s dramas continue. Cancer still strikes. Kids still rebel against their parents. Addiction still has a stranglehold on so many. Marriages still fall apart. Cabin fever can be deadly. While crime is down, domestic violence is up as much as 15%. How do we celebrate Easter or Passover in a time like this?
Technology has given us the tools to be together when we are separated physically and that helps. But some insist on denying the science and ignoring repeated pleas to practice social distancing and recklessly gather for religious services.
So, how do we celebrate Easter or Passover in such a time? We cannot observe these holy days in the ways we always have, but we must remember why these sacred times emerged in the first place. Passover commemorates the release of the people Israel from Pharaoh’s ruthless oppression. It was celebrated even in the midst of the Holocaust as faithful Jews remembered God’s deliverance from Egypt and imagined a future free from the horror of concentration camps. Passover does not negate the pain, but points to the promise of life’s triumph despite that pain.
And for Christians, Easter represents the enduring victory of God’s love over the most powerful forces in the human condition, even death itself. Christians believe that God shows Divine empathy with humankind through the death of God’s “own” child, Jesus of Nazareth. In 2020, the current pandemic exposes us over and over again to the wrenching sadness of losing a loved one. As we look towards an Easter dawn that follows the darkest despair of this particular Good Friday, may we have more than hope—may we have the confidence to know that this too shall pass and that joy will come in the morning.