Easter weekend. In quarantine. As a full time stay at home mom on unemployment since I have been laid off because of COVID-19. What a strange time. I never thought I would be laid off twice in 6 months as a physical therapist! I certainly never thought the whole world would get shut down by an invisible virus, grinding everything as we know it to a halt. Everything is a mess right now.
The Easter story is one of absolute disappointment, shock, and dismay as the leader of this new movement within the occupied Jewish population in the Roman Empire was killed by the state. Jesus lived a radical life, eschewing the norms and wandering around the region, homeless, preaching and teaching about this “Kingdom of God.” Jews were excited to hear him talk, as an occupied people who had never recovered from being exiled, thinking he was finally going to liberate them and give them their own country/land/home. That he would throw off the shackles from the Roman empire who had wiggled its way into corrupt Jewish leaders.
And yet. He died. That was it. He had said enough things to royally threaten both the religious leaders with all his talk of free and unearned love and forgiveness, and the political leaders with his casual disregard for the empire, and they killed him. We could not stomach the free, unearned grace Jesus offered, so we killed him. It couldn’t be that easy, God! People have to believe/do/pray/say the right things before they get your love, right?? Religion did not care for Jesus’ disinterest in judgement and rules.
“Give to Caesar what it Caesar’s,” when asked about paying taxes. Caesar wants your money? So what, give it to him, big deal. I want your very life, your very soul. I want you to live completely contrary to the small-minded ways of this world. Fame, power, wealth are completely meaningless. Love, joy, compassion, peace – these are the things I value and want you to live for. The empire didn’t like that. A bunch of liberated people walking around, immune to the enticements the empire could dangle as false hope? What a threat!
I can only imagine the deep shock and depression of Jesus’ followers after his death. This man, the physical representation of God on earth, that they loved and believed in so deeply, many leaving their jobs and families to follow, was gone. The Romans were still in charge, the Church was still corrupt. They were expecting massive change and revolution, and it looked like nothing had happened. It’s hard living in that space.
It’s hard living in this space of so many unknowns. How long has this virus been here? Is anyone immune or are we all still in danger? How long am I going to be holed up in my house, unable to go out and enjoy the world and socialize? If I risk it, could I be a silent carrier and bring this virus to someone vulnerable? How is my community going to survive this, is my business going to survive this? How am I going to pay the bills? What is going to happen here?? How does this end? Is this going to keep happening every year? If a vaccine comes out, will it be safe? Can I trust the people in charge?
These are not easy questions or easy times. Conspiracy theories are flying around like pollen in the air. The level of crazy-talk I have seen on social media is a new shock for me. And I sort of get it. Believing in one of these conspiracies provides some sense of order and explanation. It can be oddly comforting to think that someone (the Chinese, the democrats, whoever) created this thing, because at least then someone is in charge, even if in an evil way. The truth – that viruses are a fact of life, are frighteningly transmittable in our global economy, are adaptable and deadly, and that we are not prepared for this – is scary to deal with since it can make us feel powerless. The scary truth is that we are powerless against so many things – viruses, hurricanes, cancer, tornadoes, death. There simply are no guarantees in this life.
After the despair of Good Friday, after the shock and bitter, total disappointment of sitting around on Saturday knowing Jesus has died, we get the story of Easter. Of resurrection. Jesus defeating death, returning to his people, and giving them a message of hope. What a twist. Jesus didn’t defeat the Romans, he didn’t liberate the Jews from their oppression, he didn’t create a grand kingdom and set up all his followers with a lavish life. Instead, he lived a counter-cultural life, showing us a different way to operate in the world. An upside down way, where the leader acted like a grungy servant and washed his friends’s nasty feet. An upside down way, that cared nothing for worldly power and influence and instead drew the outsiders, the powerless, women, slaves, children and minorities to him like moths to a flame. An upside down way, which opened to doors to anyone willing to admit their powerlessness, their need to be seen and known and loved, no matter their religion or ethnicity or sexual identity or station in life.
In Jesus, we get the promise of Easter. The promise that, ultimately, the viruses and the catastrophes and the corruption won’t win. That it may look like the powerful are in charge, but in the end, they are dying like the rest of us. I think about the promises in Bible, promises that Jesus made saying we are cared for like the flowers of the fields and the sparrows of the air. The flowers don’t worry about material goods, the sparrows aren’t worried about their next meal. And I see good, beautiful, kind people dying from hunger, dying from poverty and exposure and easily treatable diseases. Was Jesus lying? Or maybe, was the promise not that we would all have our every, human need taken care of and would never suffer? Maybe the promise was that, whatever life dishes out, and it will dish out both good and bad things to both good and bad people without regard, Jesus sees, Jesus cares, Jesus knows our suffering because he suffered himself, and Jesus is with us in spirit. That somehow, when this earthly blip of a life is all over, we will be taken up in his arms, seen and known and deeply loved.