Easter in the time of lockdown
Easter marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It will be celebrated on April 12 this year by 2.2 billion Christians all over the world. Easter this time will go on record as the celebrations will be held indoors and at homes because of Covid-19 lockdowns, marking a different mode of solemnity to the occasion.
Church services and public assemblies, on Good Friday and on Easter Sunday, have been called off. People have been advised to celebrate Easter privately and to be in touch with others online. Even Pope Francis himself has decided to hold Easter Mass without the public, for the first time, at St Peter’s Square.
Covid-19 has compelled the world to come to an uneasy halt. The pandemic has swept into almost all countries of the world. It has killed thousands of people and infected nearly a million worldwide. It has hit us all; it has levelled the world through an act of death. Things have changed in just a matter of days. We are deeply concerned by the alarming levels of spread and severity.
People experience fear and anxiety. The total lockdown, besides being a measure designed to encourage people to stay home and to limit opportunities to unknowingly spread Covid-19 to others, has put the poor at risk. It has hurt the marginalised communities, particularly migrant workers and daily-wage earners, without proper livelihood, food, shelter, health care and other basic needs. Thousands have been left stranded with rail and bus services shut down.
Covid-19 has also come as a blessing in disguise. After so many years of hustle and bustle of life, there is quiet all over, sky is clear, blue and grey, air is fresh, birds are chirping and flying happily around. Nature has cleansed herself; people have discovered time, they have rediscovered their families. A new way of interrelatedness has begun to take place. Governments and all those in power and leadership need to ensure all have access to sufficient and proper food, shelter and health care.
The family is the nucleus of civilisation and the primary unit of society. Stronger familial bonds ensure stronger society. Therefore, Resurrection has acquired its truest message of new life, of the cosmic enchantment which Easter symbolises. Tragedies can be transformed into opportunities, of spiritual and personal rebirth of communities.
Easter is always preceded by a period of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting, prayer and penance. This period represents the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent in wilderness, praying and in lockdown, withstanding the virus of evil powers, before he began his public mission. It is a time of sacrifice and retrospection — a sloughing of the old to make way for the new. I stand by and feel with the tens of thousands of migrant labourers who have suffered like Jesus during their exodus towards their home towns. As always, the poor and the vulnerable bear the brunt of hard political decisions.
I am reminded of The Book of Genesis, of the lockdown of Noah and his family for 40 days and nights in an Ark. There were no balconies, terraces, no internet, no phones, no TV, no YouTube or Netflix. They lived together and loved each other. Covid-19 has dominated the period of Lent in February and March and has made the Noah’s lockdown to repeat itself, causing the citizens of the world to come together and discover the potential of mutual care and commitment.
Easter is the paradigm for Jesus’ sacrifice for humankind and the triumph of good over evil. It represents the cleansing of the earth and the self and deliverance from all wickedness. This moment of eternity is our journey, our sail on Noah’s Ark upon the sea of life, together as one people in solidarity, respectfully adhering to the directives of the government authorities; it is our passage from pandemic danger to new found freedom and human fellowship. As in the case of Jesus and Noah, this pandemic will pass, a rainbow will shine and shower on all peoples of the earth the colours of life.
Easter for us today is our efforts and sacrifices to win over Covid-19. It is the manifestation of our new life. Let this Easter generate in our hearts and families an abiding love and reverence for one another, for nature and for the whole universe. Let us hear the resurrected Christ’s footsteps as he walks out of the tomb victorious.
I wish all readers a peaceful Easter celebration of personal and providential blessing. May the Holy arms of the Risen Jesus, who abides with us embrace all of us at this moment of trial and comfort each one.
Father J. Felix Raj, SJ is vice- chancellor, St Xavier’s University, Calcutta (www.felixrajsj.com)