Published on April 11th, 2020 | by Candace Simpson
What Time Is It?: Covid Chaos and the Holy Calendar
Lent is the season when many Christians symbolically journey with Jesus in the wilderness. It begins on Ash Wednesday with the reminder “you came from dust, and to dust you shall return”, and it ends with celebrating Christ’s resurrection on Easter. For years, Christians have surrendered to the gravity of Ash Wednesday because we knew Easter would be here soon. It’s easy to give something up, take on a challenge, or in some other way walk the path of wilderness for forty days with Christ, if you’re certain it will be over at a predictable date. But this Lenten season feels like something out of a horror movie.
The novel coronavirus hit the United States. And then, no calendar—not even the holy one— made sense anymore. Services were (rightfully) cancelled, conferences postponed, revivals shifted online. Everything we sing, preach, teach, write, and believe now feels different. The epistles feel eerie. The hymns feel inadequate because we’re not together. Even the Lord’s Prayer feels void. This moment is hard. We’re in the middle of a major global shift. People have died, and those who have recovered have been changed in ways that only other impacted people might understand. State resources have been rerouted. The devastation has been profound all over this world.
Our “normal” of a month ago feels so far away.
Our president has wondered if he could “get the country open by Easter.” We all know who he’s pandering to by making such statements. It might be easy to consider him silly (or other words) for trying to return us to normal by the arbitrary/intentional date of Easter, but his response is the plausible—albeit extreme—conclusion when so many people rush passed the journey of Lent, the grief of Good Friday, and the Silence of Holy Saturday, because they want the Easter bunny to show up.
Put simply: Running to the Resurrection was never healthy. For the sake of our physical, emotional, and spiritual health, there are some moments that we cannot rush. Suffering is brutal. It hurts. I do not believe in glorifying suffering as a necessary experience. But experts will say that we need to be honest about our grief, and running away from the discomfort of the human experience only forces us to cope in unhealthy ways. It’s okay to say out loud, “I really miss my family” or “This whole Zoom thing is wearing me out.” You’re living through historic times. You get to have feelings about them.
There’s a joke that says if a preacher starts to lose a crowd, to get them back he just needs to say, “Oh, but EARLY one Sunday morning, he got up!” It doesn’t matter whether or not the actual scripture had anything to do with Christ. If you tell the people, “He got up!” you’ll revive the crowd’s attention. People will catch the spirit. The congregation will shout with you. Everyone who fell asleep will wake up.
I have to confess: When I realized exactly what was happening, the thing I said out loud was, “I just hope we’re back by Easter. That’s my favorite season!” I had to catch myself. The calendar was not—is not applicable here anymore. It’s okay to be sad about that. While we’re sad, though, we have to do our best to flatten the curve and follow the direction of experts. We can save lives by being still. The rest of us can make the work of health professionals, delivery workers, janitors, first responders, and others a lot lighter if we stop pretending like Easter is already here.
Or as a beloved elder said, “You can stick your head in the sand and avoid the truth if you want to. You gon’ be showing your tail while you do it, though.”
The truth is: We will be living “like this” for a while. It will be a very long time before we return to “life as normal.” I’m not even sure we should be returning to “normal.” We will be in the stench and funk of Covid19 for some time. Real people are getting sick. Real people are dying. Rushing to get to the “normal” of “Easter” will only prolong this moment. Instead, I offer this: What can we learn about this moment? Since we’re here now, what can we take? What will we leave behind?
Whenever we return to church, work, school, life… that will be Easter. We can hope for things to “make sense.” We can hope that our in-person gatherings will one day be unrestrained. We can hope that there will be a day when a grocery store trip does not feel like a risky venture. We can hope that our lives might feel more like they belong to us. But we cannot rush through this moment. It is here. We must meet it with a sound mind and full heart.
Candace Simpson is an educator, minister, and writer. She believes that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth. She invites others into that philosophy at www.fishsandwichheaven.com.