Our Lord’s tomb in Jerusalem is sealed shut. For the first time since the black plague of the 14th century, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built above Jesus’ tomb, is closed. This time because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
I thought about that on Palm Sunday, when the Gospel recalls how Pilate ordered the soldiers to seal the rock of his tomb and set a guard.
The sealed tomb could not hold Jesus; his disciples found the stone rolled away on Easter morning. And because Jesus died and rose again, no grave will ever hold our bodies down.
This is the glorious promise of the Resurrection. And God does not withdraw his promise, even when the shadow of death seems to hang over the world, even when Easter comes during an epidemic.
It is thrilling to read the first disciples’ writings about the resurrection of the dead.
St. Paul said the angel’s trumpet will sound and the dead in Christ will rise first, and then those who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the middle of the air. “So we shall always be with the Lord,” he wrote. “Therefore, comfort one another with these words.”
The coronavirus has forced all of us to confront the reality that human life is fragile, precarious, and precious.
Of course, it is true that many people die every day from many different causes. But this virus makes death personal. It reminds us that illness and death can come for any of us at any time. It forces us to think about what really matters, what makes life truly worth living.
Easter testifies that God’s love is stronger than death.
Death has been conquered. In a way, there should be nothing more to say after that. By Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, our sins are forgiven, we are brought back into union with our heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with the certainty that we are children of God. And eternal life in heaven is now the destination of our earthly lives.
But in this time of the coronavirus, our Lord is allowing us to be stripped of all the things that we rely on — all our securities, our routines, and expected ways of doing things, our priorities. In some cases, he is taking away our schools, our jobs, our livelihoods, even our physical connections with our loved ones.
These are the crosses that he is calling us to carry, just as he carried his cross for us. We are all hurting, we are all mourning. So, we need to carry our crosses together, with Jesus. He removes what we rely upon, so that we rely only on him.
During this long Lent, I have found the words of the psalms striking me with greater intensity: “You will not fear the terror of the night … nor the plague that prowls in the darkness. … A thousand may fall at your side … you it will never approach.”
God is our stronghold and our refuge. But he works through us. He is calling us now to love and serve our neighbors who are suffering in this plague.
Out of this pandemic, we need to recover and deepen our belief in God’s Providence and the mysteries of the communion of saints and the Mystical Body of Christ. In the Eucharist, we are united with the angels and saints, but we are also joined in a profound spiritual solidarity with our brothers and sisters.
That means when one of us is suffering, we all suffer. That means we need to join our sacrifices to his, we need to offer our sufferings and sorrows for one another, just as he offered his life for us on the cross.
We are never alone. We have one another, in spirit if not in body. And our Lord is never far from us. He will never leave us. Even in our loneliness, he goes before us, carrying his cross.
And God is in charge, even in times like this, when we see trouble in the world and we are afraid for the future. God is still carrying out his plan in history and in creation. And it is a plan of love.
We worship the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead on Easter morning! So we know that the sorrows of this present moment will pass. He will bring good out of this evil, and life out of this death.
As the saints teach us, nothing can separate us from the love of God, not persecution, famine, pestilence, or plague. And not this pandemic.
Pray for me and I will pray for you.
And as this long Lent opens into Easter, let us stay close to our Blessed Mother Mary. May she help us to carry our crosses with Jesus, so that we will share in his resurrection.