Indeed, these are the most unusual but interesting times in the past century or two.
That this Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is interfering with the most solemn and most important celebration in the Christian liturgical calendar is all the more significant.
It is even more puzzling to many Christians – both lay an
During this Easter, it seems the Christian God is silent to the anguish and lamentation of believers who, like the Psalmist, cry out from the depth of sorrow, sickness, brokenness and darkness of Covid-19:
“Have pity on me, Yahweh, for I am fading away.
Heal me, Yahweh, my bones are shaken,
My spirit is shaken to its very depth
[…] I am worn out with groaning,
Every night I drench my pillow
And soak my bed with tears
My eyes waste away with vexation.”
In a suffering and sorrowing world in the age of Covid-19, and especially during Lent and Easter, it is important to recall a central lesson in the salvation history of the believing community: God, too, suffers now as he did when His beloved son, the Nazarene carpenter, hung on the cross at Golgotha, alone, apparently abandoned by his father.
Pain, silence, sorrow, frustration and lamentation are not unknown to the Christian God. This is an important lesson to recall during this first Easter during Covid-19.
However, this is not the only story in the divine pattern for the redemptive acts of God in human history.
The carpenter who was whipped, mocked and burdened by the weight of a Roman cross and the moral failings of humanity, was also healed and resurrected, in so doing healing and making whole the infirmities of humankind.
In the silence and darkness of present unknowing, as humanity searches for healing and a cure for Covid-19, and gets ready for an impending economic meltdown because of the disease and disruptions, the words of Isaiah bring, not an explanation for why believers and their world are suffering, but a glimmer of redemptive hope even in moments of hopelessness:
“Whereas he was being wounded for our rebellions
Crushed because of our guilts;
The punishment reconciling us fell upon him,
And we have been healed by his bruises.”
For Christians wondering why Easter should be so dispirited and dispiriting, their consolation seems to be in the realised hope of healing; that no matter how long Covid-19 lasts, there will be a solution to their menace.
This is so because what defines Christians as Christ-followers is their belief in the resurrection of the carpenter; the assurance that a similar fate awaits them at some material time under some circumstances.
Even in the very quiet yet solemn Easter season of this year, Christians are not allowed to be despondent as if they are victims of a supreme metaphysical evil. As the resurrected Jesus, and now Christ, instructed the women at his tomb: “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; there they will see me.”
Christians have a special message to deliver to the world afflicted by microscopic viruses: care for the sick, the vulnerable, the weak, the lonely and all those who are unable to cope by themselves or are incapacitated by the pains and burden of Covid-19.
As they embark on such a “mission”, it is significant to remember that early Christians did not publicly celebrate Easter for 300 years after the founding of Christianity. The earliest historical mention of Easter festivities was in the second century.
For the early church, the Easter event was a sombre experience characterised by what the father of the African church, Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus (155 to 240 CE), from Carthage (present-day Tunis in Tunisia), wrote in his most famous treatise, “work of love [for so it is] puts a mark upon us, in the eyes of some. ‘Look,’ they say, ‘how they love one another’ [for themselves hate one another]; ‘and how they are ready to die for each other’ [for themselves will be readier to kill each other].”
Covid-19 reminds Christians to focus on the basics: not a profound explanation of the “why” of the pandemic but on the cost and pain of salvation, waiting in the darkness of death, sorrow and apparent hopelessness for the light.
The message is go and bandage the wounds of the sick and feed the hungry and enfeebled by the lockdown. And “love one another” irrespective of faith, nationality, gender, skin pigmentation and socioeconomic class.
Even as they cry with the Psalmist: “Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant; stay hidden in times of trouble?”, a poignant silence is the response and calls for Christ-like love of the anawim (those bowed down by the burden of poverty, sickness and emptiness) of Yahweh.
Ukah is professor and head of the department of religious studies at the University of Cape Town
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