I began writing a reflection for Lent back in early March. Then the world got turned inside-out as the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the globe, filling intensive care units, distancing us from each other by six feet or more, wiping our calendars clean, and confining us to screens within our homes.
When I went back to take a look at my pre-COVID-19 reflection, I found that I could no longer relate to what I’d written; my words belonged to a former life.
I am going to begin with two assumptions:
1) That Jesus Christ is “God the Son,” and
2) That what we are commemorating during Good Friday and Easter is Jesus’s death by crucifixion, followed by his resurrection from the dead three days later.
I recognize that not all of my readers will share those assumptions, but I am not going to spend time arguing them here. (If you’re interested in excellent, logical arguments in this arena, I’d refer you to C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and Rebecca McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion.)
COVID-19 is a virus that attacks the lungs. It destroys lung cells as it starts to replicate, which triggers the immune system to step in. But the immune response may also destroy lung tissue and cause inflammation, which can lead to pneumonia. As the air sacs in the lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid, it becomes more difficult for the lungs to get oxygen into the bloodstream. People who die from COVID-19 are usually dying from multiple organ failure and septic shock due to lack of oxygen.
Crucifixion, which was developed by the Persians around 300-400 BC, was perfected by the Romans and used as a punishment for the worst offenders. It’s death by slow torture: Hands and feet were nailed or tied to a cross, and as the arms and legs gave way over time the victim would bear his entire weight on his chest. This put the victim into a state of perpetual inhalation; death resulted from suffocation or organ failure due to the resultant lack of oxygen.
In other words: Both COVID-19 and crucifixion involve death by asphyxiation.
I have been reflecting upon this over the past week. What it means, if you accept my opening assumptions, is this:
God has experienced firsthand what it feels like to die from COVID-19.
God has felt the crush of chest pressure, God has gasped for breath, God’s oxygen saturation has plummeted, God’s heart has raced and then stopped all together.
I’m just going to leave it at that. I’m not going to interpret it or tell you how it should make you feel.
You may find it comforting that God in human form underwent the worst that the world can throw at us, and therefore understands what we are experiencing right now.
You may find hope that, in rising from the dead, God demonstrated that death does not have the final say and promises an ultimate resurrection of all things.
You may feel infuriated. “I don’t want your sympathy, God,” you may be thinking. “If you know how bad things are here, why don’t you FIX them already?”
All of those seem like valid responses, good places to start. Let’s approach Good Friday with whatever we’re feeling, be it awe or anger, and let God take it from there. The most important thing, it seems to me, is that we feel something.