Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Sunday, April 12, 2020

On the Dying and the Rising of Jesus - For Easter

A few weeks ago, an Italian filmmaker named Olmo Parenti released a 3-minute clip from inside the COVID-19 ward at Milan’s Polyclinic. [1] The images are painful and disheartening. They are images of death. What struck and surprised me, though, was how quiet the ward was. We’ve been using the language of war. Government officials keep comparing the virus to an “enemy.” We talk about health personnel being on the “front lines.” I was thinking the hospitals might be chaotic and loud, like the shouting in a field hospital in battle where nurses and doctors frantically try to save the wounded. But Parenti’s film captures mostly just the sad and tired eyes, the faint gasping, the soft hum of machines. It’s all very quiet.

Death is quiet. To die is to be brought to a terrible quiet. It is to be silenced. The death of Jesus would have been quiet. We are told that “there was darkness over the whole land” (Lk 23:44). Surely there was also quiet. The gospels mention an earthquake at Jesus’ final breath (Mt 27:51). It does not say the crowds screamed and panicked. After seeing Jesus die, we read that “the multitudes … returned home beating their breasts.” His mother stood by and mourned. No one records her saying a word (Lk 23:48-49).

Out of New York, where the COVID-19 outbreak remains most acute, we are now seeing images of the makeshift morgues. They are refrigerated trailers lined with plywood shelving. Each day, hundreds of corpses are labelled, wrapped in white blankets, and then piled upon a wooden shelf. Hundreds. Each day. There is nothing more the hospitals are able to do. For the time being, it’s the most dignified they’re able to make it. With each body, the trailers are closed up, locked, and sealed. This is their makeshift tomb. This is their terrible silence. 

It’s the sheer ocean of these deaths, nearly 7,000 each day across the world right now. It’s the piling of them onto plywood shelving. It’s death telling us to be quiet, that we’re nothing. Death tells us, as these poor corpses are shuffled around in trailers, that the names on the shelf will eventually be scratched out and replaced with our own. It tells me that I myself am replaceable, that I’m unnecessary, that I’m insignificant. It tells me that the things I do in this world are unimportant, that anything I might have to say will ultimately be brought to silence anyway. It tells me that ultimately death and plywood are what’s waiting for me. That even my death will not stand out, that they’ll just lift me onto a wooden sheet and go get the next one. That no Joseph of Arimathea will be able to collect me, should he even remember.

The death of Jesus ― his burial in the tomb ― tells us all the same things. Everyone was so excited about this man. He set the world on fire with his preaching, with his miracles, with his acts of tenderness and mercy. “All the crowds, when they saw him, were greatly amazed, and ran up to him and greeted him” (Mk 9:15). But now he was dead. Silenced. He’s been brought to nothing. Just like you and I will be dead. He was sealed in a tomb. 

It was devastating for his followers. In the days after Jesus’ death, we read about how the disciples had earlier “hoped that [Jesus] was the one to redeem Israel,” but now they just “stood still, looking sad” (Lk 24). Even when Mary Magdalene had gone to the tomb and found it empty, she did not rejoice, but wept: “They have taken away my Lord and I don’t know what they’ve done with him” (Jn 20:13).

Death conquers with an unbearable harshness. But this is precisely why Easter, in a sense, is the only thing that actually matters. As Saint Paul said, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile” (1 Cor 15:17). As Mary Magdalene stood beside the empty tomb, she noticed a man standing behind her. She “thought he was the gardener.” “Tell me where you have laid him,” she shouted amidst the tears, “and I will take him away!” (Jn 20:15)

The man simply spoke her name, “Mary.” 

"Rabbi!" (Jn 20:16)

Our death will be the feast day of our human weakness and our fragility. It will be the feast day of our smallness. But our death will also be the feast day of our union with Jesus. [2] Our rabbi, our teacher, our God has gone before us into the nightmare of death. And if the living God can go into that abyss and then come out of it to speak our names then it means that we are not insignificant, that each of our names matters. Easter means our own death, our own life ― even if it is hidden and undignified ― is seen and measured. It means that our death is not the end of our significance, but the climax of our significance. Our death is the moment where we are most like Jesus ― the Jesus whose death was not the end, but the beginning.



[1] Olmo Parenti’s disturbing short film, “One Meter Away,” can be seen here.
[2] F.X. Durrwell said something similar in the 60s, but about humility. See In the Redeeming Christ (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963), 234.


~Anthony Rosselli (PhD cand., theology, University of Dayton) writes out of St. Luke and Ascension Parishes in Franklin County, Vermont. These columns are archived

Click here to subscribe to these reflections by email