Just the other day I took my son outside to run around the backyard. There he was, so full of life and happiness. I often wonder what it’s like to feel such freedom like that: to run with no worries. I noticed he did something interesting, something so small but meaningful. As I was setting up his little toddler baseball tee, he ran up to me, reached out his arms with excitement and said, “hug.”
Such a simple word and gesture did so much for me. It was as if one simple moment, one simple embrace, multiplied my joy. Then it hit me. This is something so many have lost: the ability to hold, to care for others in that way. That moment of joy was just that — a moment.
As a nation grappling with COVID-19, we are also wrestling with our collective experience of loss. This virus is challenging us. It is challenging our commitment to the most vulnerable. Peace and belonging are crucified on the altar of markets, bottom lines, and a narcissist need to "win."
This crisis that we are in has not only challenged our sense of connection, but it has forced upon us political questions many people before us have asked. The question of the failure of America. The failure of a place to take its people and their suffering seriously. It is challenging our long-held myths of exceptionalism. It is challenging our narratives of America as a “city on a hill.”
It's that feeling, that empty black hole inside of us, that has to be what the disciples on the road of Emmaus felt — loneliness, emptiness, hoping against hope.
One cannot speak of such unspeakable suffering without listening to the cries of black grief. As the coronavirus has swept our land, we are fighting a common enemy, but we are fighting in different battlefields. “When COVID-19 passes and we see the losses,” Linda Sprague Martinez says, “it will be deeply tied to the story of post-World-War II policies that left communities marginalized.” The saying remains true: when America catches a cold, black America catches pneumonia. We are living in two different Americas.
James Baldwin’s criticism of Christmas Day in 1963 is very much needed for Easter in 2020. He wrote that he thought the nation should be mourning for the foreseeable future.
"One must face the fact," he writes, "that this Christian nation may never have read any of the Gospels, but they do understand money."
I often wonder if this Holy Week, if only for a few days, it is a time we lay down our triumphalism. Maybe it is a time, as N.T. Wright suggests, that we lament and “look more broadly at the suffering of the world.”
When we lament, Wright says, “we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell.”
But the reality is that many struggle with lament. Because certain social, and religious, narratives have been deeply steeped in privilege and power, lament will be extremely hard. It is quite easy to ignore the cries of the oppressed when life is working well for you. Maybe as Christians, Holy Week is indeed a time to commit to lamenting.
But that’s not all: Lament must be tethered to solidarity.
If lament in this moment is the doorway to hope, then solidarity is the soil of lament. Solidarity in this moment will define for us our commitment to loving our neighbor over rugged individualism. Solidarity for us now means a commitment to be together, empathetic, dependable, and committed to wholeness in our human experience — despite the forces that threaten us. Solidarity does not just become a personal experience, but it becomes a prophetic ethic and political expression.
To speak of God as lamenting is also to speak of God’s solidarity. God’s solidarity with victims of unspeakable horror and grief is not simply a word of consolation but it is a life-giving affirmation of God’s commitment to compassion. The good news of this week is that Jesus's message of salvation is also Jesus’s ministry of solidarity. The Jesus on the other side of Easter is the same Jesus living in a world bruised and broken.
“The gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to be explained in a theory of salvation,” James Cone writes, “but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed.”
God hears the cries of people longing for change. God attends to the many lost, lonely, and forgotten. God is moved by our collective grief and suffering. God meets us by the grave, in the sick room, in our home, on our lonely Emmaus road.
It is this vision of solidarity that has gotten my people through tragedy. We refuse to let joy be completely squeezed out of our lives in the midst of absurdity. Even as we struggle with this contradiction, we have been empowered to realize that ultimately in God’s future, we will not be defeated by the world’s terror. God snatches victory out of defeat.
As we collectively deal with this crisis, maybe this week is time for people not simply to listen in solidarity to our suffering, but learn in solidarity with our struggle.
If this week is to indeed be holy, it will find us lamenting and practicing solidarity. That’s where Jesus is.