April 11, 2020
Will’s prayer this week: “Dear God, sorry about the coronavirus. Thank you that I love everybody. Amen.”
This week of quarantine generated no small amount of charming anecdotes, as per usual. For instance: Todd and I dressed alike to go on a date to the grocery store and we called it Sadie Hawkins. (Our very-overwhelmed cashier was not amused, and our bagger didn’t even notice because she was too busy tossing the gallons of milk on top of the loaves of bread. It’s like they were both passive-aggressively letting us know they’d like us to stay the eff home, which so many others have also communicated this week, minus the “passive” part.) Will has been talking about his stuffed animals as though they’re actually alive (and actually his best friends), Kiefer made delicious brownies on a whim from scratch, and Cooper put Foss in the recycling bin to help stomp down all of our cardboard boxes and then wheeled him out to the curb, both of them giggling all the way.
But all of the anecdotes are paling in comparison to the approach of Easter, and what it means to celebrate such a significant day in isolation.
I am not afraid of sickness or dying. When I say that, I’m not trying to be cavalier or flippant. I’m also not writing off the responsibility I bear towards others. Of course I don’t want to be the reason that someone else gets sick (or worse), but that’s not new with COVID-19. Every time I get in the car, I’m aware that there are other people on the road whose very lives depend on the decisions I make at the wheel. (BTW, that’s 1.35 million fatalities worldwide per year, friends. If we all quarantined forever, we could prevent all of those deaths, too.) Caring about our impact on the health and well-being of those around us shouldn’t be a new phenomenon, especially for Christians, who are repeatedly told throughout the pages of scripture to view the needs of others as more important than our own. With or without a pandemic, we should be living in a way that blesses others rather than harming them.
When I say I’m not afraid of death, it’s not because I’m careless. It’s because when I read Psalm 139:16, I actually believe it.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
I believe God is sovereign over everything, including the number of breaths every one of us has left. That doesn’t mean we’re justified in being reckless. If, through my carelessness, someone else comes to harm, then my guilt would necessarily complicate my grief. What it does mean is that God is sovereign, regardless of the presence of disease or human foolishness.
Even if someone else’s carelessness led to my death, then so be it. I look forward, very much, to being with Jesus. Death is a sad and terrible thing, in human terms (in fact, 1 Corinthians 15:26 calls death our enemy). I don’t deny that for those who are left behind, death is awful. Death is the curse, the evidence of sin in this world, the constant reminder that things are not as they ought to be. Even Jesus wept over death (John 11:35). But for my own part, my death would be nothing but gain (Philippians 1:21). For the follower of Christ, death is the pulling back of the curtain, it’s “chapter one of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle). In death, “heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee” (Abide With Me). Death isn’t the end, it’s the beginning.
I am not afraid of death.
That doesn’t mean I’m happily clicking my heels through this season of pandemic and quarantine, though. Hardly. I’ve had my share of frustrations, concerns, and worry, and there’s a lot that makes me sad. One of those sad things is the disbanding of the church. I’m not saying it’s unnecessary. A quick glance at Old Testament law will demonstrate that social distancing (for the sake of promoting health) has plenty of biblical precedent. It’s the reason lepers sought out Jesus, after all. Lepers were the unwilling kings of social distancing, the brokenhearted masters of self-isolation. And Jesus, to the shock (and sometimes horror) of all, moved towards them, and touched them, and healed them.
I keep hearing Christians talk about how wonderful technology is, how it’s great that we can stay connected even though we’re apart. Sure. Fine. I mean, I am indeed thankful for the information, messages from friends, and ridiculous memes that are readily available at my fingertips thanks to technology. I’d rather have the ability to FaceTime with someone or watch a sermon on YouTube during a quarantine than not. But plastering on a smile and saying that technology is wonderful at a time like this feels kind of like slapping #blessed on the end of a post about how exhausting your life is. It’s the candy coating on a turd sandwich, the bow on a present that no one wants. It’s a way of taking a crummy situation and trying to act as though it isn’t a crummy situation, which is only a pseudo-Christian approach to difficult times.
A proper Christian approach is to call a spade a spade, and then hold tight to the hope of Christ. This isn’t just about not getting to go to church on a Sunday morning. I know people who haven’t been able to see loved ones get married, who aren’t getting to hold their newborn nieces or nephews, who can’t have a funeral service for a much-loved parent who passed away. People are experiencing the great joys and sorrows of life in isolation, and that is painful on a grand scale. We were made for fellowship and camaraderie with each other, and when that’s snatched away from us, we shouldn’t say “Well, hooray for technology!” But nor should we be morose and hopeless. Faith in Christ is a life-giving stream, one which is deep enough to encounter the very real and poignant difficulties of this world, robust enough to not be crushed by them, and nuanced enough to allow for pain to coexist with hope, and sadness to coexist with joy.
Things in this world are not as they ought to be. That much is clear to everyone. Jesus came to this world because of its brokenness, and this Easter, we’re reminded more than ever how broken it still is. The world needed Jesus then and it still needs Jesus now. I need Jesus now.
As we celebrate Easter in our homes, it is right to be thankful for the technology that allows us to connect to other Christians throughout the world. If we have spouses and children, then it is right to be thankful for the opportunity to celebrate with them in a unique and hopefully meaningful way. (It’s also an opportunity to pray for those who don’t have a spouse and children with them at this time, and who will no doubt feel their solitude even more acutely.) But it is also right to feel the weight of this time — to feel it even as a kind of grief — and to be thankful most of all for the sacrifice and gift of Jesus, who came and died to heal a broken world.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18