Like many of you, I’ve been cooped up these past weeks. And like many of you, I’ve been both anxious and antsy. My wife and I have four small kids. Two have asthma. And our little ones can’t process why they can’t go to school, to off-site church services, or to Grandpa and Grandma’s. It’s been hard, and it’s not over.
Then again, there are darker and more deadly places to be quarantined.
Matthew 27 contains perhaps the oddest example of “physical distancing” in the whole Bible.
It says there that at the very moment Jesus died on the cross, “The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.” Then we’re told that these raised corpses “came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (27: 52–53; NIV, emphasis added).
Did you catch the time lapse?
Assuming the NIV’s translation is correct (there is a slight question here), the oddity is glaring: why did the corpses come to life on Friday, while not emerging from their sepulchers till Easter morning? Why did God keep these raised up saints under temporary “quarantine” even after his miraculous work of new life? (Also, did they have toilet paper?)
I don’t know.
But allow me to trace one possible connection.
CHRIST’S SPIRIT FROM THE CROSS
In the prior verse, we learn that Christ’s last act was to give up his “spirit” (vs. 50) from the cross. And though the word functions as a synonym for “breath,” it’s hard not to miss the deeper possibility that Christ’s Spirit (capital “S”) is elsewhere God’s agent of resurrection, both for Jesus and for us.
The Spirit flows forth not just from the Upper Room in Acts 2 but from a bloody cross. These saints (like us) are “made new” by that Spirit.
And then they wait, entombed – or rather, quarantined till they can be released physically upon the world.
That’s precisely how I’ve felt this Lenten season.
I’ve been raised up by the Spirit and the blood. But here I sit. Antsy and unclear on how to pass the time. I’m ready to be unleashed again upon the “city” (vs. 53). Technology helps. And also hurts. So here I wait.
I’ve wondered, What kind of patience was required to sit quietly in an unlocked tomb because it was not yet Sunday?
I’m starting to understand.
WE SEE OURSELVES WITHIN THIS STORY
This Easter, we too are like those waiting saints. Like them, it was a death that brought us life. Like them we’ve been enlivened by the Spirit from the cross. And like them we wait for new creation to go fully public.
The veil is torn. The heart of stone is shattered. But at the end of Matthew 27, this new life remains somewhat incognito. It sits humbly – waiting – amid the stench of death and slowly airing grave clothes.
I ask again: what kind of patience does that take?
Perhaps it is something like the kind required to go on trusting God while enduring a global pandemic, while watching markets crash and while seeing loved ones (or oneself) start showing symptoms.
In addition to “going” and “showing,” part of the Christian vocation is to engage in holy quarantine. We wait. We pray. We minister how we can while keeping in mind that “Love does no harm to a neighbor” (Rom 13:10).
We wait alive in the abode of death.
And we find ourselves within this story with these patient saints.
We wait alive within Death’s shattered house. Like them, we are “walled off” but not defeated. We wait and work now in the belief that the God who gave his Spirit from the cross will not leave us waiting forever.
“Sunday is coming” in more ways than one.