How can it be so easy to put it out of mind? Granted, we have been preoccupied—this writer included—with the devastating news unfolding in Ukraine (even striking results from the January 6 House Committee investigation have been rendered to the margins). But how is it possible that there’s been so little coverage of the grim milestone reached this week when the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center statistics indicate that there have been more than 500 million cases of Covid-19 worldwide? The sheer number—500,000,000—is staggering.
News fatigue about this subject is understandable. But it is important to remember the human toll we’ve witnessed because of this pandemic—how we seemed unprepared for it, how our response—or lack thereof—quickly became politicized, how much pain and suffering is implied in this unimaginable number, and how we need to learn from our experience in the event of another health crisis.
Across the globe, one-half billion (that’s billion with a “b”) people contracted Covid-19. With vaccinations and therapeutic treatments now available, with increased knowledge of the virus itself and broader levels of immunity among the populace, the scepter of contracting the coronavirus does not strike the same fear as it did two years ago. Still, as variants emerge and incidents of Covid-19 continue (like the recent spike in Washington, DC or Shanghai), we are far from finished with this virus.
For Christians, this is Holy Week, following Jesus’ last steps on his “lonesome journey” to his death on the cross outside the city of Jerusalem. It is a powerful and poignant story of courage and integrity of purpose in the face of certain death at the hands of the occupying forces and their collaborators. We are mindful of such singular courage nightly in reports out of Ukraine where senseless death and endless suffering have become so common.
But the excruciating back story to this extraordinary number—500 million—represents a horror as great, or greater, than the suffering caused by Vladimir Putin. Embedded in the unfathomable number of 500 million are more than six million deaths. And sadly, these deaths are most likely vastly under-reported. For many of these victims—especially early in the pandemic when so much about the virus was unknown—it was truly a lonesome journey as quarantine restrictions meant that those infected had to be isolated from loved ones.
In addition to the lonesome journey that Jesus made on his way to Jerusalem, Holy Week acknowledges the failures of Jesus’ closest friends who fell asleep as the attackers approached, denied they knew him when confronted by the crowds and betrayed him when the authorities sought to have him arrested.
That said, the struggle that came to its climactic conclusion on Calvary’s hillside, contained a much deeper message and a vastly different ending. Good Friday is not the end of his lonesome journey. Easter Sunday is. And with it, comes the promise that, if we believe, unimaginable possibilities, that even the power of death cannot contain, are ours.
For those who among the 500 million who have endured extraordinary suffering because of this pandemic; for those whose families have been separated on our Southern borders or who have been ravaged by war in Ukraine; for those whose lonesome journey is experienced privately due to addiction or dementia, the loss of a lifelong companion, the promise of this season is that God’s love will endure and Easter dawn will not be denied.