Our worlds have been turned upside down in a matter of a few weeks. What a few weeks ago, seemed like another virus problem in a distant country with a couple of isolated cases at home, has become like living in a post-apocalyptic Hollywood film.
We hope and pray that the social distancing and lockdown measures being taken will be enough to slow and eventually halt the spread of the illness. We hope that we will not become frustrated to the point of slackening off on our adherence to these measures, and so lessen their effectiveness at combating the spread of Covid-19. Let us commit , for the sake of ourselves, and others, especially those most susceptible, to social distancing. Stay as safe as possible so that everybody is as safe as possible. We cannot and must not continue to live as we have, and we won’t be able to do so in the immediate future. We must accept this fact and we must discipline ourselves with patience, and find creative ways of responding to being confined to a limited social space. Although by now the novelty of lockdown has worn off and we are in the full throes of cabin-fever, we are still very much aware of the need to continue with these measures for a while yet. They are having an effect on the spread of the virus, we are told, and this brings us a certain sense of achievement and the comfort of knowing that our small but collective effort has made a difference.
This is a very different Holy Week we find ourselves in this year. The recurring narrative of these days is one of fear, death, disruption of ‘normalcy’ and isolation. We are enduring a collective traumatic experience that has revealed both the limits of human self-sufficiency and the limitless courage and self-sacrifice of the human spirit. If we accept the challenge of these times, rather than giving in to fear and despair, if we recognise in our own circumstances something akin to the events of that Holy Week in Jerusalem over 2000 years, ago, then our Holy Week this year takes on a greater meaning than we might at first realise.
We have been asked to make an enormous social sacrifice to limit the spread of Covid-19. It is a sacrifice because it demands that we forsake something of value to us for the sake of a greater value. That ‘something of value’ to us is our social freedom and mobility, a robust economy and all the luxuries we have taken for granted. That ‘something of greater value’ is human life. Enduring the discomfort of a lockdown and the pain of foregoing the pastoral and sacramental benefits of the Church, especially at this sacred time, is a sacrifice. And in this, we imitate the sacrifice of Christ himself. How appropriate and fortuitous is this moment – that we have been called to sacrifice so little for so much; that we have been given the opportunity to value life over easy living; the well-being of others, especially the physically vulnerable over our own ease and comfort. If we discern meaning and value in our suffering, and embrace it with a positive spirit, we transform it into a sacrifice. This enables us to not only endure, but to allow each moment to become a redemptive moment for ourselves, but especially for those for whom we make this sacrifice. These are severely ill patients struggling in intensive care units in hospitals and are receiving a better quality of care because we have, by our compliance with the lockdown, limited the spread of the virus. These are the doctors and nurses who are caring for them with professionalism and courage, who are not overworked and overwhelmed by a high influx of patients in need of critical care because we have willingly given up our social freedoms. And these are those who may have caught the virus had we not observed the lockdown, but who now are safe and whose lives may have been spared because of our small sacrifice. In this we unite ourselves to Christ in his sacrifice for humanity on the cross. What a fitting and meaningful way to celebrate Holy Week this year.
I have also been thinking about the paradox of ‘social distancing’ and isolation and lockdown. It’s a paradox because it involves two opposing realities that coincide with each other. It is this: our safety and well-being depends upon us keeping a physical distance between ourselves and others. This means that care for ourselves and others is expressed in separating myself from others. And yet in our fear and illness, we need the care and comfort of others – we need community. We do not want to be alone and isolated in the face of this disease and its consequences. Now, more than ever, we need the presence of others. But their very presence is a threat to us and them. That is the paradox. But a further dimension of this paradox emerges when we become aware that we are all susceptible to this disease in one way or another, and that as a family, a community, a nation, and a global human family, we face this disease together. Our combined efforts are being brought together to combat its spread. In each community and country, and as a global community we have come together to share expertise and resources; we have come together to reach out in compassionate care to those who suffer the disease and to those who lives and livelihoods are threatened by the lockdown in response to the disease; together we share in collective fear and sadness, collective hope and joy. And together, we share in a collective aloneness and loneliness. We have been thrown back upon ourselves and have discovered that we had forgotten how to live authentically as human beings and as brothers and sisters. And now, during this pandemic, that is changing. This unprecedented solidarity in the face of a collective condition at this moment in our history will have an impact on us as a human family long after Covid-19 is no longer a threat to us. Hopefully we will have learnt that we are all one family, and we are all brothers and sisters to each other, despite our differences, and that we are all called to care for each other.
Like the disciples locked in the upper room, huddled in fear, grief and confusion after Christ’s death, we are experiencing something very similar in our lockdown and isolation. This Easter as we share in some small but very real way in Christs sacrifice for all humanity on the cross, as we wait patiently at the tomb of silence and absence, we too will rejoice at the moment of collective resurrection when we experience a growing joy that the dark days of the virus are behind us. Then we will have some small inkling of what the real resurrection from death into life, light and love will be like when we finally step from this world into the heart of God in eternity.