Holy week lessons during a pandemic

Things feel a bit Old Testament-y.

The coronavirus seems as if it is a modern-day plague. Americans in the midwest are preparing for severe floods. Locusts — yes, locusts — are ravaging eastern Africa.  

If we get a red tide in Maine, I’m going to be worried. I was the first born in my family  and we don’t have any lambs handy.  

Of course, this week, we remember one of the most famous stories from the Old Testament. Moses, as leader of the Jews, demanded the Egyptian Pharaoh release his people. Pharaoh refuses. So Moses, on behalf of the Abrahamic God, calls down ruin on the captors of the Jewish people.

Eventually, a final plague was wrought. Firstborn sons would die in the night. However, Jewish families could escape this fate — they would be passed over — by marking their entryways with a lamb’s blood in sacrifice.

This is the story of Passover. Jewish families from around the world celebrated it with a ritual dinner Wednesday evening. This year, many of them joined each other via Zoom, FaceTime, and other video applications.   

Tali Arbel and her family and friends from other places are pictured on a New York computer screen during a virtual Seder for Passover. (AP Photo/Tali Arbel)

It is an important lesson for everyone today. In trying times, there is something comfortable about sharing a meal — however meager — with family and friends. Doing it virtually doesn’t make it any less meaningful.  

It also offers an opportunity for calm and perspective in a seemingly stormy sea. Everyone’s lives have been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It is unsettling time for everyone, whether you are worried about your health, your finances, or your sanity. 

Yet our forefathers dealt with much worse before and lived to tell the tale. Even more, they prospered.  

That leads to the New Testament.

The Christian corollary to Passover is the Easter Triduum. Starting on Thursday, the Last Supper — a Passover seder — is remembered. Good Friday brings to mind the sacrifice of another Lamb. And then, on Easter Sunday, the culmination of Christianity is at hand.

It is a story of hope. That days ahead will be better. The struggles we face now will prepare us for something much bigger. And that this too shall pass.

Empirically, the health implications of the coronavirus for the vast majority of people are minimal. You will get sick, feel bad for a bit, and then get better. The prescription is fluids and rest. You will recover without medical intervention and continue on with your life.

For a subset of people, they face a different story. The coronavirus may make it difficult to breathe because they have some other, complicating condition. They are the people who may need hospital beds and ventilators. And because the virus can easily spread, the first group must take particular care to protect the second group.

Thus far, “particular care” has taken the form of government orders and economic shutdowns. It seems as if it is having the desired effect. With luck, the curve will be flattened and the number of people lost will be below earlier estimates.

But what comes next? In the weeks ahead, it appears as if mandates will loosen and turn back into recommendations. The vulnerable group will remain vulnerable; the healthy group will remain robust. So the latter will have different sacrifices to make in order to protect the former.

The lesson of Passover should ring true in our minds. If we heed the call — wear masks, maintain social distancing — then we may see the virus skip over our vulnerable loved ones.  

Easter offers inspiration as well. Sacrificing our own comfort so that others might have life is the highest example Christianity offers for emulation. And dealing with some annoyances is much easier than hanging from a cross.

So whether you’re focused on the Old Testament or the New, this is a holy week. Our faith traditions offer guidance on how to overcome COVID-19. And they remind us that we will get beyond this and that better days are ahead.  

Chag Pesach Sameach and happy Easter, everyone. Be safe, and be well.  

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.