Today on this sunny Easter Sunday I sit in my apartment in the epicenter of Covid19—New York City. Each day I watch TV for updates not only on what is happening nationally but in this city. Every day the local news seems as bad as it was the day before—coronavirus positive people crammed into hospitals; entire hospitals turned into ICUs; freezer trucks outside to hold bodies that are too many for the morgues; a mass grave on Hart Island with pine caskets draped in white stacked atop of each other. And everywhere in the city the endless sound of sirens. The numbers are staggering. To date 98,308 confirmed cases and 6,367 deaths are contained just in the five boroughs of New York City. The Synod of the Northeast states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts are among the six states with the highest number of confirmed cases and deaths.
Every day doctors and nurses tell their stories through tears – stories of grief; caring for patients dying at alarming rates; patients so sick it is hard to be present; watching patients die alone while their family members desperately wish to be at their sides; often being assigned one mask for an entire shift; overwhelmed and in fear of contracting the virus or taking it home to their families.
And now grief that began as a small spigot is spilling into the streets – a friend calling a friend about his mother, her cousin, their child, her spouse; his grandfather; families in grief with more than one person dead or dying; pastors and chaplains receiving calls at all hours of the day and night.
And in the midst of all of this, systemic racism and systemic poverty that our Matthew 25 churches, presbyteries and synods are called to dismantle and eradicate have reared their ugly heads. Jumaane Williams, the New York City Public Advocate, tells a tale of two cities divided along lines of race and class. He says that 79% of frontline workers, those once called “service workers” who are now deemed “essential workers”—delivery people, grocery stockers and cashiers, van drivers, subway and bus staff, nurses’ aides and clerks etc. who are forced to go to work each day without protective gear are African American and Latinx. They are falling ill to Covid-19 in far greater numbers than those who can stay home and order food delivery or order via Amazon. They are the least well paid for the risks they take to try to keep food on the table for their families. At the same time, part of the national discourse treats the lives of these essential workers as expendable. It took days of people and reporters demanding to know the racial breakdown of Covid-19 cases and deaths before New York city and state officials would discuss this—their claim being that they were not tracking the virus in this way. Certainly, a way to make both Black and Brown people and poor people invisible in this crisis.
Today is Easter—after the crucifixion of Jesus and Holy Saturday—a time of sadness and grief—we come to the good news of Resurrection. In the midst of this Covid-19 crisis we see Resurrection everywhere and every day—the nurses, doctors and all health care workers who get up every day and go to work all over again. This is Resurrection. The first responders who repeatedly go into deadly situations to bring people to hospitals. This is Resurrection. A nurse who sits holding the hand of a person dying of Covid-19 so that person does not die alone. This is Resurrection. The essential workers who keep the body and soul of the city together with the work they perform. This is Resurrection. The churches that continue their food banks or start new ones figuring out different ways to serve people in this time. This is Resurrection. The hotels that open their doors to first responders who are afraid to take the virus home to their families. This is Resurrection. The new shelters opening to house Covid-19 positive people who live on the streets. This is Resurrection.
Young adults who flock to organizations to help deliver food and other supplies to those who are elderly and shut in. This is Resurrection. A network of librarians who use their 3D printers to make personal protective equipment for hospitals. This is Resurrection. I have an older friend who with her husband, both of whom have underlying conditions, went to the grocery store early one morning to buy supplies to make soup for people who are hungry. She contacted a group of young adults she knew to pick up the soup and distribute it. Now she has gone national with this effort through a network of women she had created for a different reason. This is Resurrection. I read of two middle school sisters who wanted to help. Their mother taught them how to make masks on their sewing machine. They are now making them for their entire neighborhood. This is Resurrection.
We have no idea how long we will need to shelter in place (if we are lucky enough to do so.) We have no idea how the millions of people who have lost their jobs will survive. We have no idea how the story of this pandemic will end. But we do know that even in the midst of the loss, grief and sorrow, fear and anxiety spread with this pandemic God is with us.
We do know that when we look around us, we see signs of Resurrection and hope everywhere. And we can be a part of this Resurrection. Either as individuals or as families in our homes, or with neighbors or within our churches we can come up with creative ideas of how we can help those who are on the front lines fighting for our lives. We can come up with creative ideas of how we can aide those that structural racism and systemic poverty have cast aside. We can live into our desire to be Matthew 25 churches. Let our imaginations run wild and then let us all do something, no matter how big or how small.
Christ is Risen Indeed!
Rev. Nancy Talbot
Synod Stated Clerk
Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020