Everyone is worried. What if Easter gets canceled this year? How can it be Easter without our going to church and finding every pew full? But the first Easter was a quiet and socially distanced event. When Jesus rose, it was before dawn on the first day of the week. The streets were quiet. The women ran from the empty tomb and told no one. Mary Magdalene was alone when she saw Jesus alive. The two men on the way to Emmaus didn’t have to share the risen Lord with a packed auditorium. The revelation that Jesus has conquered death goes out, like ripples on a still lake. It will still be Easter, even if we are each alone. In fact, a solemn and solitary Easter celebration might help us to pray for the thousands around us who suffer in isolation and the families who cannot sit beside their loved ones when death comes. As we pray, may might even grasp the humbling truth that every human being does die alone, unless they die with Jesus. Holy Week is not about the crowds. It is instead a time to be mindful of the one person we each need to hold our hand when we take our last breath.
By way of contrast, Palm Sunday is all about crowds. Dangerous crowds. Pilgrims have come from all over the Roman world. Their babble fills the air. Angry soldiers and religious leaders line the road by the Eastern Gate, shoulder to shoulder, spitting their displeasure, snorting their disdain, as the disciples and Jesus pass into the city. Aware of the danger, Jesus brushes past the mob. He has come to Jerusalem, the navel of the world, to be at the center of all humanity. His mission is to bring healing to the world. He can’t phone this one in. He can’t do this essential work from home. Like all healers, he must visit his patients face to face. Stripped of personal protection equipment, he gives his life for others.
Further, as we enter Holy Week, this is global pandemic. Those who die in Italy, Iran, and Wuhan are no longer foreigners to us. We remember the crowds and know that we are all in this together. No one is isolated from the compassion of Jesus.