Hugh Riminton: This Easter, God Will Be Working From Home
In the coming days, Christians will dwell once more on the central drama of their faith -- the crucifixion of Jesus.
This year, though, they’ll have none of the comforts of congregation. The solemn cathedrals and the suburban churches will be empty.
It is more evidence that this is a year of wonders. A plague year.
Age brings experience of calamities. But other disasters in living memory have been signalled with the blast of artillery, or a terrorist outrage, or the ringing bells on Wall Street as the markets collapsed, or with earthquakes lifting and shaping annihilating walls of ocean.
This one has crept up like a tracer bullet seen from an aeroplane: small and slow and insignificant until it is suddenly upon us at terrifying speed.
As the death toll mounts and infection rates soar, our jobs and prospects, our cosy former plans and expectations are tumbling.
The government has started calling it a “six-month pandemic”. But most Australians, whether they are bending the knee this Easter or not, will harbour secret doubts it will be over so soon.
And there are deeper worries. Will the virus take our oldies? Could we even get to their funerals, or to see them before they go? And what about our loved ones, younger and still full of plans, whose unlucky twist of genes has left them as vulnerable as the frail and old?
On pestilence, the Bible -- especially the Old Testament -- has much to say. Generally, it is not Satan but God himself who hurls down pestilence like thunderbolts.
As the Book of Exodus records, God sent 10 plagues against Egypt. The last one saw the first-born of every living thing killed in a single night.
“From the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on the throne, even to the firstborn of the maidservant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the beasts,” said Moses. Only the congregation of Israel was spared in what Jews still honour as “The Passover”.
Globally, plenty of preachers are busying themselves with the current pandemic.
The billionaire Texan televangelist Kenneth Copeland has ranted to millions of viewers against the virus, addressing it as “Satan, you destroyer, you killer!”
But -- God be praised -- he ends by declaring “the United States of America is healed and well again.” The US currently has the highest number of infections in the world, and it is rising.
Millions of Americans see the virus as evidence of the “end times”, the final reckoning when Jesus returns. A Pew Research survey found more than half the people in America’s South, and 59 percent of all Americans who never went to college, believe Jesus will be back by 2050.
Preachers from Poland to the Pacific have argued coronavirus is either an instrument of Satan or God punishing us for “ the sins of abortion and homosexuality”.
That’s not how the Reverend Graham Long AM sees it.
“In 1349, the church said the Great Plague was God’s judgement against sinners -- until all the bishops started dying,” he says with a chuckle.
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Ten years ago, Graham’s own son James died of a brain haemorrhage. He was just 30 years old. He left a wife and three young daughters.
“I’d have given anything to jump into my son’s hospital bed,” he says. “Where was the Father at the crucifixion? The same place I was when my son was in the hospital.”
That, for him, is the Easter message. The crucifixion is a sign that God is suffering with us.
Graham Long doesn’t care what faith people profess, or if they profess any at all.
“It’s the practice of love that reveals God,” he says. “In a trying time, we are closer to God than we think.
“That’s why God’s working from home.”