OpEd: The Easter/Passover Sermon I’d Like to Have Heard This Year

April 16, 2020

Submitted by Abigail Hafer

Our prescientific ancestors might have thought that this pandemic was sent to us by a supernatural being. Each variety of faith would claim that their supernatural being did this, for reasons that they alone are qualified to explain. We reject this way of thinking because we know better. We know that the virus evolved. It is a product of the random mutations of a few strands of viral RNA. Many random mutations in other organisms don’t affect us.  This one does. But that does not give it supernatural meaning.

However, in this season of Passover and Easter, it seems reasonable to talk about signs and portents, death and resurrection, heroes and saviors, and survival and deliverance.  Our current era gives us plenty of opportunity to talk about these things, without resorting to supernatural thinking.

Sign and Portents.  We saw this coming.  Scientists did, anyway.  Scientists were tracking this disease from afar, starting in January of 2020.  It was then new and mysterious, but it quickly became clear that it is deadly.  By the end of January, it had devastated the city of Wuhan in China and had spread to other parts of the globe.  The World Health Organization declared a global health emergency.  In February we saw community spread within the United States and our first deaths. By the end of February, people all over the world were dying in droves, in Iran, France, Korea, the Philippines, and Italy.  The writing was on the wall for all to see.

In those far-off days in early February, US scientists were alarmed and talking about it.  By the end of February, we were screaming about it.

We do not need any magical thinking for our signs and portents here.  There was a known virus and growing numbers of dead people.  Yet our modern Pharaohs, and our would-be Roman Emperors, refused to admit to the signs.

Death and Resurrection. The disease itself is providing this aplenty. Tens of thousands of people are ill, and many are dying.  But more live through it, some resurrected from what would be certain death through the heroic efforts of doctors and nurses and other medical practitioners.  We don’t need a rock rolling away from a grave to see people walking around, who would have died.

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Heroes and Saviors. The first hero whom we must recognize is Dr. Li Wenliang, the Chinese doctor who first noticed this strange new virus, and warned that it could spiral out of control.  For his contentiousness, he was summoned for a middle-of-the-night reprimand, and he was later required to sign a statement that denounced his warning as an illegal and unfounded rumor. He died of COVID-19 on February 7.

After that, the heroes emerged thick and fast, starting with medical personnel around the globe risking their own lives and health and peace of mind about their own families, in order to try and save others.  Naval Captain Brett E. Crozier sacrificed his naval career in order to save his sailors on the aircraft carrier the Theodore Roosevelt.  His sailors knew him to be their savior, and when the US Navy relieved him of his command, they lined the deck of the ship and shouted his name in unison over and over again as only the military can, and gave him thunderous applause.  These things do not happen in ordinary times.  These are times for heroes.

Other less-sung heroes have emerged. Grocery store workers are endangering their own lives and health to provide us with the food we need.

Boards of health, governors, mayors, select boards and city councils have taken the heat for closing businesses, libraries, sports. and schools. We owe them our endless thanks for preferring our lives to their popularity.

Others have sprung into action in new, creative, and sometimes reluctant—but dutiful!—ways.  Educators have moved their teaching online in the middle of the school year, which is like building an airplane while you are flying it.

Armies of home-sewers, 3D printers, and other makers of things have been making desperately needed medical equipment, not asking for money, and doing their best to fill in for the supplies that are mysteriously and tragically not there when we need them.  Whole networks of coordinators, restaurants, drivers and donors have emerged, in order to bring food to the medical personnel and staff in local hospitals, thereby resurrecting our restaurants and at least some of their workers, and providing for our front-line heroes in this medical crisis as well.

Many parents are simultaneously trying to work from home while seeing to their kids’ online educations at the same time.  Other people telephone their elderly relatives and neighbors and go shopping for them. They reassure them and save them from contagion. Still others perform the simple but crucial heroic sacrifice of staying in when they’d rather go out.

Workers continue to work, providing us with the running water and electricity that we depend on. And as always, police and firefighters risk their lives on our behalf, in newer and more dangerous ways.

But now to the crucial part—survival and deliverance.  For our immediate survival, we depend on our heroic doctors, nurses, and grocery store workers.  But for deliverance, we need science.  The only way that we will be delivered from this non-supernatural evil is through vaccination.  Nothing short of the painfully long and difficult processes of research, vaccine development, vaccine testing, and vaccine manufacturing will deliver us from this viral evil.

Easter sermons always need a message about resurrection, and this story of resurrection is the most important one in the history of the world. We need a resurrection of science.  Science denial must be seen as the Judas Iscariot of our age.  Science is being murdered, even as it is trying to save us and deliver us.

Like all saviors, science is not perfect. Scientists do not always get everything right the first time. But science is open to correcting itself. It will come as no surprise to many of you to hear that scientists are often equipped with healthy egos. This means that if one scientist can prove that another one is wrong, they’ll go for it.

So in this Easter and Passover season, we must resurrect science, and see it for the savior and deliverer that it really is.

…As for those who have blood on their hands in this Passover and Easter story, let’s leave that for another day.

And now for some symbolism.  For many, eggs are a symbol of this season.  Whether it’s Easter and eggs, Oestara and her eggs, Passover seders and eggs, or just birds nesting in the spring, eggs, with their potent ability to make new life, are a symbol of this season.

And now, eggs are cued up to be a part of our resurrection.  Why?  Because vaccines are grown in eggs.

Although some people can’t use them, most of the vaccines that most people use are made using eggs. Once a vaccine is developed, the actual production of the vaccines that we will get that will save our lives will be grown in eggs.

So whether you celebrate the season by coloring Easter eggs, watching birds nesting, or just by cracking an egg to make your matzoh brei, take a moment to consider what that egg now means. It is no longer just a symbol of renewed life.  It will literally save lives, and be a part of our society’s resurrection. The day that vaccines become available to everyone is the day that we can all be together again.  On that day we can hug our loved friends and elderly relatives, and most of us will be saved by…scientists, and eggs.

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