God In Pandemic Times
This year we are having a very different Easter experience because of the unusual situation we are in. One of my elderly friends told me that it was the first time in 89 years that he experienced Palm Sunday without a palm, Holy Thursday without the washing of the feet, and Good Friday without venerating the Holy Cross. Yet God blessed us with the opportunity to join in Easter services in our homes through various media of communication. Let us be thankful to God for that.
Thinking about the first Holy Week, 2000 years ago in Jesus’ time, we can see that there were some similarities to what we are going through right now. Certainly, it was a week of confusion and chaos in Jerusalem. On Sunday, people shouted Hosanna to welcome Jesus as if he were like a king of the world. However, Jesus came riding on a colt, proclaiming that his kingdom is not of this world. During the Thursday Passover meal, the disciples never expected that the Master would fall to his knees and wash their feet. It was supposed to be the other way round. Masters would have their feet washed by disciples or slaves. Come Friday, another unexpected scenario unfolded. Jesus the Son of God was crucified. There was never a God who chose to become so weak and helpless, in order to share the weakness and helplessness of us humans.
After all these exceptional episodes of that first Holy Week came the most remarkable thing that ever happened in human history. Christ rose from the dead! We can imagine the confusion and chaos the people of Jerusalem must have felt. But not many people believed the resurrection story. As a result, many, including Jesus` own disciples, lost hope and returned to their previous lifestyles. Losing hope is the last thing anybody would ever wish to happen in their life.
Like the disciples of Jesus, many people of our time, too, find it confusing and feel helpless as this pandemic pervades humanity. How can we approach this scenario or how are we able to find meaning in all the things that are happening around us? In 2011, when asked by a Japanese schoolgirl why she had to suffer so much from the earthquake and tsunami that had struck her country, Pope Benedict XVI said to her, “We do not have the answers, but we know that Jesus suffered as you do, innocent as you are, and that the true God who is revealed in Jesus is by your side.” The hope of Easter Sunday is that, though Jesus died on the cross for our sins, he came back to life to be by our side. The life-giving power of God is once again revealed in the resurrection of Christ. The greatest assurance of resurrection is that God is with us and especially at the side of people who are suffering.
“Where is God in a Pandemic?” is only one among many headlines that have appeared in some newspapers. We may not have a direct answer for that. It is true that churches are closed, and worship is halted indefinitely. However, even though churches might be closed, church-run institutions such as hospitals, health care facilities, and soup kitchens are not closed. Doctors and nurses in these facilities across the world are in the front lines fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, we can say that the life-giving power of God’s healing is present through these professionals in the midst of all the chaos and confusion.
Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). From the beginning of the history of the Church, “spiritual deeds of worship” and “corporal works of mercy” were two sides of the same coin. That is why, along with places of worship, it also built schools and hospitals all over the world. God cares for both our spiritual and our temporal needs. The Church ensures that God`s mercy and healing are felt even in situations such as the one humanity is passing through right now.
As we pass through this Easter season amid the confusion caused by this pandemic, let us pray for all who are suffering from this disease across the world. With grateful hearts, we remember the doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals who are working hard to contain the disease. We earnestly pray that the Good Lord may strengthen them and keep them safe and healthy. Finally, it is also important to remember our families and the families around the world as they spend more time together at home due to lockdowns and closures. I think, in a positive sense, it is a time for us to hold together more than ever, nurture our family bonds, and enjoy one another’s company.
By Fr. Bony James SJ