Easter hope in the time of the pandemic
Scores of stories abound of people facing death alone as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage disparate regions. Frontline doctors and nurses in China and the United States, priests and religious nuns in Italy and Spain, mothers and fathers in Mexico and Colombia, academics and researchers in India and the Philippines, and many others who have fallen victim to the virus have all had to face their last hours alone, as strict quarantine rules and the fear of contagion have made it nearly impossible for loved ones to assist their dying.
Passion, death, and resurrection. It is perhaps no coincidence that this phenomenon of staring death unassisted is taking place in the season of Lent, when Christians all over the world commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of the God-become-Man. (In fact, the word quarantine derives from the Latin and Italian words quadragina and quarantina, and the Spanish “Cuaresma,” that denotes the 40 days of Lent.)
Betrayed, forsaken, nearly alone while crucified between two thieves, Christ went through his passion and, in a moment of anguish, cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”
Some of us may recall sitting by the bedside of someone in the last throes of life, reflecting perhaps how death can be the moment when one feels most alone. Yet, I recall the solace in my mother’s face when my brothers and sisters took turns holding her hand, stroking her hair, clasping her lovely face and frame, cuddling her into our arms—all mute and nearly futile filial signs of farewell. Being there for one who is near and dear in her last moments seems so comforting for the person departing, but more so for those being left behind.
Isolation. What a difference this period of quarantine and isolation means, when even the last rites have become almost impossible to observe. To be alone completely, in the moment when one needs others most, and for those left behind made desolate and despondent in their feeling of helplessness and anguish!
It is difficult to imagine any form of consolation sufficient for situations such as these. Yet there may be another dimension to this unimaginable tragedy if one cares to ponder and meditate.
For those who have faith, death is not the end of life but the beginning of another journey. It is when life is transformed, and all of life’s sorrows are converted into a passage to another realm.
Easter hope. “He is risen!” The heart of the Christian message lies in the fact that Christ conquered death; it is founded in the unflinching hope that “He is risen from the dead!”
He pitched His tent among us, lived as we did and gave us hope—that all of life which is a gift is entrusted back to Him who is the Giver of life.
I realize that when one loses a loved one, such thoughts are rarely relevant, for grief is great and almost always overwhelms us. But it is good to think about life and death in the period of the quarantine and the Lenten season. Who would have thought the coronavirus threat would occasion such an ironic convergence?
It was while I was walking alone back and forth on the rooftop of our apartment building that these thoughts came rushing to me, begging that I put them in writing, and thus perhaps provide even a measure of solace to someone out there personally witnessing the tragedy of this pandemic. And so, to fellow citizens and human beings grappling with despair, worry, and loss at this time, proclaim the Easter message that there is hope, and that even in death there is life!
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Ed Garcia, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, is a teacher and former student of philosophy and theology.
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