When we incorporate this virus into our daily rhythms and our children and grandchildren learn this time of human history, how do we explain it? Shall we accept the antiseptic term “COVID-19” or shall we call this something beyond that, something akin to The Black Plague? What shall we name it? How shall we tell it? How do we talk about all of this “afterward”? How shall we understand all of this? What even is “This”?
The question, the problem of “This” is the problem of giving name and memory and narrative to something so disruptive and global that it shakes our very understanding of the world and our place and role within it. “This” is the feeble attempt to unify “these” events and actions and people. There is no distant “that” or “those”. What is happening to us is all too intimate for such othering, no matter our prejudices.
Easter is for when we read and share the story’s end of the traumatic event of Jesus’ execution. In the midst of this plague, we have lived and died through Lent, we have shouted through the bad faith of Palm Sunday, we have betrayed our own on Maundy Thursday, we have abandoned our friend and neighbor on Good Friday, and we have sat still alone in our homes on Holy Saturday. Now, after all that we have gone through and lost and learned, there is again the story of a great, cataclysmic upheaval.
In Matthew’s gospel, with a great earthquake an angel rolls away the stone as the women approach the tomb. The Roman guards faint. The angel tells the women to not fear, that Jesus has been raised, to see where Jesus had been laid, and to tell the disciples he will meet them in Galilee. In fear and joy, the women run to tell the disciples and suddenly they meet Jesus, who repeats the commands of the angel. And scene. The gospel ends.
But this is one canonical Easter story of four. This is not the resurrection of Mark’s earliest manuscripts, where the women see a single angel and leave afraid, telling no one – or later Mark, where Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, gives the disciples new authority and ascends. This is not Luke’s two angels, the Road to Emmaus, and the ascension. This is not John’s lengthy resurrection and tidy resolution between Jesus and his disciples. Each gospel resolves the trauma in a unique way. And we hold these irresolvable stories of Easter along with our own.
Easter is an answer that can never be explained fully and can never be without tension. We retell the story because we cannot resolve the trauma of it. It is and remains overwhelming, something unbelievable, and yet… We cannot ever forget the radicality of Easter and its disruption of our senses and of our selves. Objectively, it can never be fully conveyed. Objectively, it can never be fully understood. Easter, like all trauma, can only ultimately approached subjectively.
Subjectively, we remember and we re-member and we memorialize what we have experienced. We create to make sense of what we have experienced, what we have heard and learned. We create the Via Dolorosa. We create the Holy Sepulchre. We create the Stations of the Cross. We create gospels. We create a liturgical calendar. We create because we have lost and we seek to fill the void however we can with personal and communal meanings.
How now do we make a monument for our plague’s vast reach and extent? Where do we build our monuments? At the hospitals? At the graves? In the neighborhoods through which it tore most fiercely? Online? Everywhere and nowhere. How do we list the countless names of the dead? Everyone and no one. A plague cannot be encapsulated. A single stone cannot be fixed in place. This is not Downtown Manhattan with its two watery chasms and thousands of chiseled names. This is something different.
There are four canonical gospel accounts of what happened to Jesus and those who knew him. They remain in conflict and tension. There is no complete harmony. To force harmony is to deny the irresolution and our inability to contain and fully explain the story, the Gospel. We will always be unsatisfied and that is the point. And we must find ways to move forward. Some ways are gracious. Others, less so.
Deductive and hegemonic mansplaining distastefully dehumanizes the rawness of what has occurred, what continues to occur, and shall be passed down. Passion means “suffering”. Both the Passion and the Resurrection is traumatic. And trauma is a subjective, deeply intimate encounter as is its self-reflection.
We cannot allow the powerful and the selfish to name This, to tell This, to make This real. We remain always at risk of gaslighting, of forgetting, of selectively remembering, of ignoring what is happening, what happened, of how it happened. There can never be one “official” overarching, grand narrative of This. This is not theirs. This is all of ours and This must remain so.
Our monuments, our documents, our stories are necessary and complex ways of speaking to ourselves and each other through time and place. We must tell these stories for our own survival and our identities, so that the disinformation and propaganda of capitalism and nationalism and fascism do not make This of and for their own. If we are to have any Good News, either that of the Gospel or for our survival through this plague, we must make these stories and memories our own, against those who would use their power to shape This and this warming world in their own image.
Who ever speaks of Easter during the 1918 Pandemic? Who remembers? Where are those memorials and monuments and sermons about that century-old plague that ravaged the world? What was Easter in 1918, during the War To End All Wars, during The Great War? What shall we say about This Easter and every Easter after until we, ourselves, are forgotten and become a part of history? How shall we re-member when we were alone together? How shall those after us remember us and This?