This is the weekend that Christians around the globe celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It recalls a weekend two millennia ago when the followers of the rabbi from Nazareth were sheltering in place fearing for their lives. Behind closed doors, the eleven were devastated that their 12th man had been silenced.
Their friend and teacher was dead and buried. So, too, were their hopes and dreams. A pandemic of paranoia and disillusionment imprisoned their emotions. They had given up everything to follow him and now all seemed in vain. What they’d considered normal would never be the same. Or so they thought.
What Jesus’ followers experienced for a weekend, much of the world has experienced for a year. In spite of being masked and maintaining a social distance separated by six feet, upwards of 600,000 in our country have ended up six feet under.
In a post-pandemic parade, fear and depression have joined the ranks of the grieving and the unemployed. Exhaustion and frustration have taken up the rear along with reluctant virtual learners and faithful virtual worshipers. Unlike the Seahawks Super Bowl victory celebration seven years ago, this parade is not a happy scene.
For the early Christians, the despair and disillusionment they experienced that three-day weekend was nothing less than gut-wrenching. What began Thursday evening was a portent of something ominous. The traditional Seder supper was less than satisfying. While Jesus had modeled humility by washing their feet, clean feet were not enough to compensate for what followed the meal. There was talk of death. There was talk of treason.
As Thursday morphed into Friday, it was anything but good. There was betrayal, cowardice, a kangaroo court and ultimately crucifixion. A public execution witnessed by family and friends. The grief was intense.
And then there was a self-enforced lockdown. Fearing guilt by association, the followers of Jesus quarantined in that familiar upper room. For how long? They had no clue. After all, that first Easter weekend there was no way of knowing Friday would one day be labeled “Good.” Neither did anyone know that the events of Sunday morning would redefine the significance of what had taken place.
Even as the restrictions under which we have lived as a nation are beginning to be lifted, the pandemic of fear that paralyzed the early Christian disciples was not permanent. An unexpected discovery early Sunday morning proved monumental.
A sealed tomb was accessible. A corpse was missing. Jesus’ followers could not locate him but the face covering and the strips of cloth (that had been wrapped mummy-like around their friend) were only too visible. The nightmare through which they had lived for three days was over. Sleepless nights of agonizing despair gave way to dreaming of what yet might be.
For Christians down through the centuries, a vacant grave became a virtual vaccination of sorts. What once was dreaded can now be embraced as a necessary part of life. What once was viewed as a death sentence is seen from a new perspective. Life is no longer punctuated by a period but rather by a semi-colon. For his followers, Jesus’ defeat of death has taken the fear of our own mortality away.
This Easter weekend people of all faiths are finding cause to celebrate. The fear that has held us hostage for more than a year is beginning to evaporate like mist in the morning sun. Increased vaccinations and decreased hospitalizations find us dreaming of brighter, happier days. Death is being swallowed up in life. The joy of restored normality cannot be masked by face coverings. By the dawn’s early light, hope can be detected on the horizon of tomorrow.
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.