There is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Dr. Beverly Crusher notices people on the Enterprise are vanishing. She learns that she has been zapped into some kind of pocket universe that is collapsing around her. She has to find a way of getting out of this dying universe before it was too late.
As Americans adjust to this altered life in the shadow of the coronavirus, I feel at times as if the world I knew, the world all of us knew until a few days ago is collapsing around us. Little by little, we can’t watch our favorite sports team, or go to church or even go to our job. My husband asked me a few nights ago when do I think we will forced to “shelter in place” as people in the Bay Area are having to do. In normal times, I would have said that won’t happen to us. I can’t say that now. In a few days we could be forced to just stay in our homes.
All of that brings about a strange feeling; a feeling I couldn’t initially put my finger on. But then it hit me: it felt like I was being buried. First government authorities said no gatherings under 500. Then 250. Then 50. Then 10. Some parts of the United States are now under lockdown. People can’t leave their houses except to get groceries or gas. I get it that this is needed. I know we need to do this to “flatten the curve.”
And yet I am filled with sadness. People are shut up in their homes. Businesses stop. Jobs lost. People die.
It’s not the end of the world, but the end a world. It’s the end of the world we used to know and it feels like…death. We are buried.
It is interesting that the COVID-19 outbreak is happen during the season of Lent, those six weeks where we join Jesus on the road to Jerusalem where he will be totured and executed by the state. Being buried feels like it would have on that dark Friday we call good so long ago. You feel the coffin sealing shut and being lowered into the ground. You can hear the dirt piling on top of the coffin, telling you that you are not ever getting out.
In Scripture, Jesus’ body was placed in tomb and the stone rolled in front of the tomb. There was no way of getting out now.
I think about the disciples in the days following Christ’s death. In Luke 24, the Risen Christ meets two disciples who still believed Jesus was in the tomb. They didn’t have any hope that they would see Jesus ever again. They had to feel a sense of hopelessness. Nothing good was coming around the corner.
Right now, I know no one can tell us that things will turn out fine. They won’t. At least not for a while. There is no vaccine. No treatment. It won’t be over in a few days or weeks. It could be months. Maybe even a year. There is no way to be optimistic here at all. It is bad news all the way down. We are buruied and we aren’t going to get back up.
So no, I’m not optimistic. But I am hopeful.
I have hope because even though Jesus was buried, shut up in a tomb, we know Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose from the dead and defeated death. The loss we feel, the sense of death is not forever. No virus can win forever. We have hope in Jesus Christ and we believe death will never have the last word-even when we are shut up in our homes, even when it feels like death is on the prowl. It is that hope that we must hold on to even when our world slowly dies. We can rest in the hope that death can’t win. Colossians 2:12 remind us that we are buried like Christ and like Christ we are raised. Baptism is a reminder of this. When we feel buried, we know that Christ was buried.
We need that hope because we need to share it with others who are not just losing their “freedom,” but losing their jobs because of the coronavirus and the economic harm that is coming will be brutal. We need hope because there are dark, dark clouds on the horizon.
My mother loves the hymn “Because He Lives,” by Bill Gaither. It might seem a bit syrupy, but I think the chorus speaks to me right now:
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!
Tomorrow is not looking great. But the Christ that was buried arose from the dead. At a time like this, that is the hope I hold on to.