The nation is tired of being laid low by this awful pandemic. We’re itching to rise up from this flattened existence and get back to work and play and sports and school and church and all the other things the virus has taken away.
We will rise. But not yet. As President Trump was suggesting before his reality check, Easter would have been a “beautiful” moment for us to end our physical distancing. The celebration of the resurrection — what better moment for us to start living again? Alas, the virus is indifferent to liturgical calendars. And so we wait.
Christians will not be flocking to their churches on Sunday. So much for Easter bonnets, Sunday-best suits and gathering in person to celebrate the defining event in the story of Christianity.
But the virus won’t stop Easter. Over these past few weeks, churches and other religious organizations have moved speedily to take their activities to the virtual realm, and that’s how many congregations will “congregate” on Sunday: from home, through their computers.
A story to lift our spirits in a pandemic
As online worship attests, the story and inspiration of Jesus transcend physical circumstances — transcend even religious affiliations, as I have long contended. Regardless of our location on the theological spectrum or our take on the literal truth of the resurrection, all of us can take heart in the powerful symbolism: the triumph of life over death, hope over despair, and philanthropic love over violence, fear and oppression.
What better time than a historic pandemic to allow this story from the ages to lift us and to remind us that life is resilient and irrepressible?
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Of course, Christians will tell you that there’s no proper celebrating of Easter without dwelling for a while in its grim context: the gruesome execution that preceded Jesus’s resurrection in the Bible account.
The death phase of the story is the one that resonates for many of us right now. In recent weeks, people have endured loss of jobs and economic sustenance, loss of freedom, loss of health and, for far too many, loss of life. It’s bad enough to have to absorb such blows; it’s even worse not to know when they will stop.
We must admit, too, that the coronavirus crisis has brought out some of the worst in human behavior. This is exemplified by people who hoard supplies and gouge those who desperately need them, who brazenly flout public safety measures to make a pointless point about their own invincibility and autonomy or some not-even-half-baked conspiracy theory and who suggest we should sacrifice older people’s lives on the altar of getting the economy going again.
But there is much on the other side of the ledger, too: dedicated health care professionals risking their lives and working ridiculous hours to serve patients, good Samaritans delivering food and supplies to those in need, small business owners stretching their own finances to retain their employees despite their sudden interruption in revenue.
People are showing themselves to be impressively innovative and caring. In lieu of all the canceled birthday parties, friends and family are forming car parades, driving past the honorees’ houses, honking their horns and waving signs. A talented musician friend of mine in the Minneapolis area, Mark Mraz, is sitting down at his piano each day to record and film another encouraging song and sharing it on Facebook.
Most of us are being sensible and responsible — and patient. A Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll finds the majority of Americans say the government’s top priority should be saving lives and stopping the virus, even though our social shutdown is pummeling the economy and, in many cases, our personal finances.
'We will rise' is our comeback story
We all want to resume normal life, but most of us seem to understand that our eventual rise will be safe and sustainable only if we beat this virus first.
“We will rise.” Such was the rallying cry that propelled one of the most stirring comeback stories in recent history, a story being remembered and retold this season thanks to a new book. In "We Will Rise: A True Story of Tragedy and Resurrection in the American Heartland," journalist and Evansville, Indiana, native Steve Beaven recounts the disaster that befell the University of Evansville men’s basketball team in 1977: a plane crash that killed players and their coach and devastated a basketball-crazy community that took great pride in their Purple Aces.
In a moving eulogy, university President Wallace Graves vowed, “We will rise.” And they did, rebuilding the basketball team with remarkable speed and dedication, reaching the NCAA tournament just four years later.
We, too, will rise from the disaster that has befallen us. The stock market will go back up and unemployment will go back down. Museums and schools and restaurants and shops will reopen. Our sports leagues will return to the fields and courts. If we’re at our best, we won’t simply return to life as normal. We’ll do what the Rev. Jeffrey Haggray urges: use our long standstill to reflect on the kind of society we are and the kind of society we aspire to be — and build something better and more just in the ashes of the pandemic.
We will rise. But first we’ll wait. So that when we rise we won’t fall right back down.
Tom Krattenmaker, a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, writes on religion and values in public life and directs communications at Yale Divinity School. His latest book is “Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower: Finding Answers in Jesus for Those Who Don't Believe.” Follow him on Twitter: @TKrattenmaker
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Easter story: Jesus rose and we will too, after we beat the coronavirus