(Please read this to the end.)

Easter Sunday 2020 has assumed ominous proportions. It is often difficult for us fickle, fallible, fleshly, finite human beings to grasp the gravity of life around us. To make sense of things, we often resort to figures of speech, word pictures, to help us understand and communicate complex matters to one another. Jesus is famous for using parables. The word parable literally means something thrown alongside something else, one thing to represent another.

Parables are more involved metaphors. Metaphor literally means something carried or borne across or over. The Oxford Diction defines a metaphor as “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable.” A famous metaphorical example from the Bible is, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). The devil is not a lion, and a lion is not the devil, but one image conveys the voracious nature of the other; no lyin’ about that.

This Holy Week and Easter are rich with metaphors provided by the coronavirus conundrum. In a nutshell or a capsid, no one really knows what to do. So, it is generally decided that as a society we will not do – just about anything. So, how does that relate to Holy Weeks and Easter 2020.

Along time ago in a far away corner of the world there lived a man who displayed rather curious characteristics. He seemed an average handyman, carpenter type, but he also possessed bold theological insights. He was smart, seemingly much smarter than the religious leaders of his day. More exciting, and yet more disturbing, he was not conforming to social and religious norms, traditions, practices, and laws.

This man, called Jesus, did not hold to conventional wisdom about people. He associated with shady extortionists collecting tax on behalf of the Romans, and he spent time with prostitutes. He dabbled in the demonic, or at least he stopped the devil from devouring some people. He came dangerously into close contact with those plagued and afflicted with contagions, those on “lock down” or locked out of society. Except for this Jesus, seemingly everyone else treated such people like lepers.

As this Jesus wandered about the place performing his many so-called miraculous deeds, captivating the crowds, doing neat tricks with bread and fish, time and again he went too far. People who break the rules, if not by nature then by definition, are a danger to society. Every human group has its conventions, rules, and protocols, some good and some bad. If one is involved in organized, or not so organized crime, then one should not collude with the police, and vice versa. Political dissidents in communist countries were regularly declared mentally ill and locked in “mental hospitals” to protect society from such “madness.” The list of such dysfunctional examples trying to make people conform to dysfunctional ends is endless. How does it work in your family?

Last week on Palm Sunday, we celebrated the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem as the “King of Israel” (John 12:13). As John 12 describes, Caiaphas knew that this “king” was a danger and that this man must die to save the nation. Metaphorically speaking, some weeks ago the coronavirus, the “crown” virus, and thus the “king” virus, came to town and began to rule the world. Those today “in charge” are charged to predict and to control and to destroy this king for the sake of the nation. Decisive action is needed to make the predictions of its death come true.

On what we now call Maundy Thursday, Jesus was gathered with his disciples, celebrating the Passover. Then, in the cover of darkness the soldiers and temple officials came to end the party and arrest the problem person. Ironically, this week on Maundy Thursday, Dr. Wilma Wooten, the Public Health Office for San Diego County, put an end to gatherings public or private and has threatened to arrest problem persons who congregate, especially for Holy Week and Easter observances. Dr. Wooten’s decree this Thursday metaphorically reflects the events of the first Maundy Thursday so long ago.

As an aside, at the moment, San Diego County has very few cases of coronavirus, a 0.0005% infection rate and a 0.00001% death rate, well below the forecast 2% or 3%. In fact, as reported to me by a clinical healthcare manager, one health system in the county is actually laying staff off because the coronavirus is apparently “killing” the hospital business, but back to the metaphors.

On “Good Friday” of Jesus’ last week, he was forced to appear for trial. The evidence was scant. All manner of false claims were made against him. The witnesses were speculative and contradictory. That did not matter. Those “in the know” knew that Jesus was guilty and deserved to die.

On Good Friday of this week, Abiding Place Ministries in Campo sought a temporary restraining order to lift Dr. Wooten’s decree. It was a matter of their constitutional rights. U.S. District Judge Cynthia A. Bashant, however, sided with the county. What was the rationale? Who knows exactly. I have spoken to two attorneys this week, both expert in U.S. Constitutional law. Both agree that the county’s order banning gatherings infringes on our fundamental legal rights.

Metaphorically, District Judge Bashant’s decision against Abiding Place Ministries reminds of Jesus’ trial. Regardless of what the US constitution may say, Christians cannot count on the courts to protect them. Scant, contradictory, and speculative evidence against Christians still carries the day, even today.

I view these phenomena from an unusual perspective. As some are aware, I worked for Britain’s National Heath Service for nearly a decade involved in the prevention, testing, and treatment of communicable infections. In my first post, I was directly accountable to the county’s director of public health medicine. Some of the implemented prevention measures were considered radical at the time. In a subsequent position I served as a clinical specialist health adviser in a district general hospital. I have given countless health education and disease prevention talks and lectures to all manner of professional groups. When I disagree with unfounded, unscientifically proven, blanket bans on church activities, I do so with good reason.

Two more metaphors are at play relating the first “holy week” to this Holy Week.

Guards had been placed outside Jesus tomb to prevent his disciples from gathering, stealing his body, and claiming him to be raised from the dead. This would only create a flare-up of the problem just laid to rest. Too scared or ashamed, his disciples kept “social distance” from the tomb. Instead, only a few women gathered to look at his grave.

They feel the earthquake and see the angel. The women at the grave were shaken by circumstances, literally. “Fear not!” he says. “Jesus is not here. He has been raised.” Then, offering them no pity, the angel commands them to go and tell his disciples.

Then, on their way Jesus is there! He meets them saying, “Fear not! Go forth!” “Proclaim” (apa-angello – be angels) to my disciples.

Supposedly, we cannot gather today, Easter Sunday, for services. This gives us pause for thought. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether gathering in church on Easter Sunday is really what we should be doing. What happened on that first Easter Sunday? The women were told, “Fear not! Go forth!” and they did just that.

Without a doubt, the County of San Diego has violated our First Amendment rights, and we should be grateful. The county’s decree should shake us out of the complacency and comfort of our congregating. Every year, we make grand Easter plans, and yet there are people all over this county who would never darken the door at St. Luke’s nor any other church door in the county. This year we have been blessed. Instead of trying to attract the Unlikelies and the Improbables to our door, this year we have been given an unprecedented opportunity. Today, we are called and commanded and sent, both metaphorically and literally, to be angels, sent to announce, sent to proclaim the Easter message to those whose lives are overwhelmed with the fear and uncertainty which repeated bad news instills in its victims.

Today is Easter Sunday! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. So, get off of your couch. Gather up your household. Put on your face mask. Get out of your house, and go. Go somewhere today where people can legally gather, like a supermarket. While keeping social distancing, tell the people there that Jesus is raised from the dead, as he said. Wish them a Happy Easter! Sing an Easter hymn to those gathered (two are attached in PDF with this email). Share the good news to all whom you see. It is time for us to bring the Easter service to them, to be living metaphors, bearing and carrying the gospel over to others and getting the message across to them.

Then, on Monday, start to make plans to do something similar every Sunday until we can meet again at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church.