This is Chapter 4 of Discovering Joy, a devotion-style quarantine diary I'm posting chapter-by-chapter on Wattpad during the coronavirus self-isolation.
Holy Week feels strange this year. I'm used to the bustle of planned Easter egg hunts, baskets filled with goodies, and pastel everything. I'm used to the deprivation of Lent*, the solemn assemblies on Good Friday, the light-filled church service on Sunday, and the laughter of large family gatherings after church.
(*For the record, I'm Protestant, but my mother's side of the family is Catholic, so traditions like Lent are a part of our extended family's larger celebration.)
But this year, there are no Good Friday services (in person, anyway). Stores that would normally be packed with last-minute buyers of ham and cheese platters and ingredients for their mother's traditional Easter pie are now filled with hurried, masked shoppers who stand at least six feet apart in the check-out line and have more toilet paper and bottled water in their carts than holiday ingredients. Streets that would normally see the extra traffic of people traveling to see grandparents are largely empty.
It's a wartime Easter.
When I was growing up, my Christian family also celebrated Passover during the Easter season. My (Gentile) father had grown up very close to a Jewish family and it was partially their traditions that spurred him to seek if there might be a deeper meaning to life--if, specifically, there might even be a God worth serving. So when he announced one year that he wanted to celebrate Passover as a family, it wasn't much of a surprise.
We never pretended that we were celebrating "Jewishly." Dad felt that, if he were to do so as a Gentile, he would be treading on something not meant for him. But we did do it as thoughtfully as we could.
Passover was simultaneously fascinating and annoying to me as a child.
The fascination arrived with the first night of Passover, in which we ate a meal with some of my very favorite foods: roast lamb, unleavened bread and raw vegetables that we dipped into a horseradish dip, a walnut-apple salad sweetened with honey and cinnamon, and deviled eggs. We sang songs in Hebrew (a language we were learning anyway as part of our homeschool curriculum) and read the story of the ten plagues of Egypt and the incredible exodus from slavery.
One year, Dad told the story of his conversion to Christianity, and drew the parallel between Israel's exodus from bondage and our own exodus from the bondage of sin and death. Sometimes, friends joined us. Another memorable year, Dad and the visiting father washed one another's feet as a symbol of Christ's washing of our feet. Sometimes, Dad dipped a brush in the drippings from the lamb and splashed the juices on the doorposts and lintels of the front door, to symbolize the blood that turned away the Angel of Death who came for the firstborn. Mom was not so much a fan of this tradition, unless he was the one who wiped off the juices himself after the Seder.
Then followed the week of Passover, in which our family ate no leavening of any kind, and this was where the annoyance entered.
In the first few years of the Passover week, we inevitably broke the Passover unintentionally by eating something with leaven in it. I remember my young sister nervously asking Mom, "What happens if we eat something with twelve in it?"
"I mean, eleven! What happens if we eat something with eleven in it?"
The short answer: Nothing. But the answer became more sobering as we grew older. 1 Corinthians 5 and its discussion of sinful behavior among the people of God took on a whole new meaning in its passages about leaven:
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
We had never realized how much leaven was in everything. Passover week meant diligently searching out whether an item had yeast or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in the ingredients. We discovered leavening agents in cereals, crackers, and other common food items that surprised us. No sandwiches for easy work lunches. No cookies for yummy snacks. We salivated on Easter Sunday when, inevitably, someone at the church potluck breakfast made glazed cinnamon rolls. My incredible aunt and uncle always made sure there was something delicious we could eat at the family Easter celebrations, for which we were grateful.
The constant vigilance and the desire for forbidden things were the marks of Passover week. Something as unthinking and mundane as eating food was interrupted by awareness, and the only way you could truly keep the Passover was if you planned. No more could you simply grab whatever your tastebuds craved. You had to check first.
Thinking about this as I type now, it makes me laugh a little.
The whole world is living out the Passover now. Something as unthinking and mundane as grocery shopping is now interrupted by awareness. The only way we know to protect ourselves from a deadly virus is to plan everything; no more can we casually set foot outside our own doors. We hunger for things--fellowship, unrestricted travel--things that we know now are dangerous for us and for everyone else.
Here is the subtlety of our real enemy, who is greater than the influence of leaven or the ever-present risk of a deadly virus. Sin is unthinking and mundane and casual. We hunger for it, as Adam and Eve hungered for forbidden fruit, even when we know it carries an inherent risk.
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)
When I first met my husband Paul, I was astonished at the way he talked about fighting sin. He treated sin like it was a demon warring for his soul. As his conscience became more tender, sinful thoughts or habits that he would have considered "near misses" before (because those intentions were followed through incompletely), he now saw as sins in themselves, because of the intention to oppose God's righteousness. Paul was living in a state of continual spiritual Passover. He was reading the ingredients on every action in his life, evaluating for leaven. He was avoiding offered activities that might tempt him to compromise. He was purging his spiritual house of even the smallest sin that might leaven his virtue.
It sounds legalistic and extreme, but, as John Owen said, "Be killing sin, or it will be killing you."
There is no room for sorta-kinda in the war. Christ didn't sorta-kinda avoid sin so that He could live out a perfect earthly righteous life. He didn't sorta-kinda take all our sins on Himself on the cross. He didn't sorta-kinda die from the weight of sin's judgment. From the moment He was born, He warred actively against sin. It was a war to the death.
That's why I wrote at the beginning of this reflection that this is a wartime Easter.
We're seeing the battle up-close in our desperate attempts to beat back this invisible, killing virus. Suddenly, a world that has taken sin casually is taking the threat of death seriously. We're mobilizing as if we're back in World War Two, and the home front is just as important as the battlefront. How fitting that God has ordained the season of Passover and Easter to coincide with our sudden awareness of our own mortality, our deep desire for deliverance.
Like the first Israelites who sheltered in their homes from the Angel of Death beneath the sign of a bloody cross,
Like the Christ who kept Himself pure so that He could be the substitute for all His people who were marked for death,
We are aware.
We are intentional.
We are frightened.
We are under the threat of death.
We are separate and set apart.
We are waiting for death to pass over us.
We are waiting for the final deliverance.
We are waiting to step out at last into the light.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.