A Lamentation for Churches Closed at Easter by the Coronavirus Pandemic
The ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was last closed during the Black Plague of the 1300s. Then came the coronavirus pandemic.
And now a video circulates across social media of the caretaker, a Muslim man whose family, it is said, has reverently tended this holiest of all Christian churches since the 1100s.
The caretaker closes the doors. The heavy bolts fall into place, sounding like a hammer thudding on the hearts of the Christian world just before Easter.
Coronavirus is most certainly not the Black Death. But the doors of churches are closed just the same.
This is Holy Week for Western Christians. The Eastern Orthodox celebrate Easter on April 19. But the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by all Christians. And the closing of churches all over the world, of the East and of the West, couldn't come at a worse possible time.
Other faiths have seen their houses of worship closed, too, Jewish synagogues and Muslim mosques and others, as part of the fight against the transmission of the deadly virus through social gathering.
Human beings ache for what we've been denied, like the diabetic yearning for chocolate soda. We're stubborn and willful that way. For some, the church doors closing isn't all that important. They put their faith in other things.
But for many others, for Christians at Easter, what's been lost is more powerful and meaningful than ever. And this, too, is the story of the pandemic, but it is a story largely untold.
Wasn't it just weeks ago that we thought we had everything?
We carried our phones in our pockets, and at the touch of a button we could pull forth the sum of all human knowledge. The economy was thrumming, there was money in our wallets, employers were desperate to find workers, and almost anyone who wanted to work could find a job.
Now many of those jobs are gone, people are afraid and the doors of the churches are closed. We watch our services, masses and liturgies at the end of Lent via laptop in our homes. Rather than infect others, we stay away. We isolate, not merely to protect ourselves, but to protect those we don't even know. Isn't this love too?
Yet even with our laptops to watch clergy hold services in empty churches, it just isn't the same, is it? The words are the same, the feelings they evoke are the same, but it isn't the same.
It isn't kneeling in a pew next to your family, your wife and children, near your brother's family, and your cousins and neighbors, people you've known all your life, everyone feeling the awesome weight of judgment from above as we whisper, Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy.
The word for church is ecclesia, an assembly, a gathering, and dates back before Christianity. That is what church is, a gathering, the kind of place that people seek out to be together, not alone, when desperate.
With coronavirus at Easter, we learn truths about ourselves. Some speak hopefully about this time of trial as a blessing, one that might trigger a new Great Awakening.
But those same hopeful voices had sung the same song before the pandemic, as it became increasingly clear that the world was on the edge of a new age, a revolution of automation and artificial intelligence that would cause as great an upheaval in the social order as did the Industrial Revolution.
Just how will this story of spiritual longing, with the doors of churches closed at Easter, be told? I can't say.
Secular media is extremely uncomfortable with religion, particularly Christianity, at times barely tolerant, at other times hostile. When athletes score touchdowns and praise the Lord, when politicians campaign in urban churches seeking the political blessings of clergy, journalists are cautiously benign. They don't dare roll their eyes.
Other times you can hear the eyes rolling, popping out in rage, sounding like heavy ball bearings rolling around in a tin pan.
Consider what happened to Mike Lindell, the "My Pillow" guy who converted his factories to making masks to deal with the COVID-19 virus. He was vilified endlessly for daring to bring up his faith at a White House news conference during which he praised the president. The anger, from the usual media quarters, was vicious and predictable.
Yet with so many around the world still celebrating Easter during this pandemic, media feels an obligation to at least mention that houses of worship have been closed. We've found a safe space to tell the story of Easter, just as we tell of Christmas by glorifying a jolly fat man in a red suit and white beard, with his sack full of toys.
We talk about making this Easter special for the children, and we discuss chocolate bunnies, marshmallow Peeps, colored eggs, and where to order out for that brunch with those killer Bloody Marys.
When Constantine the Great, who'd converted to Christianity, built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around the year 336, he had it constructed where his mother, St. Helen, found the place of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and his tomb, the place of his resurrection."
The church wasn't built to commemorate chocolate bunnies or glorify the yellow Peeps.
Now it is closed because of the coronavirus, as are other churches, for Easter. You can feel the hearts breaking all over the world.
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