At first, I thought it was a little too on the nose. I’ve grown sensitive, during this quarantine, to phrases that are being overused. Sagely referring to the quarantine as “this time” or talking about all the things that will be different after this. In part, this is because I can’t stand repetition, and I don’t really like cliches either. These are problems to the point that I talk to my therapist about them. But I also think it’s because the quarantine is so clearly unresolved, and so many people are trying to make sense of it, as though it has to mean something. It’s our natural instinct to want to blunt the edges of something frightening and make it manageable. It’s our instinct to try to wrap our intellect around our fears so they feel less dangerous. But I don’t think it works right now. I mean, the quarantine is still indefinite. The COVID-19 virus is still spreading. People are still dying. We don’t know how much longer things will be this way. I’m not ready to talk about it like I have some spiritual command over it. And I sure don’t feel equipped to preach to you about the hidden wisdom of the COVID-19 quarantine.
So when Catherine Keller, my doctoral advisor, signed an email to her past and present advisees with the phrase, “with unquarantinable love,” my cliche sensors went off. But Catherine is one of the wisest people—not to mention probably the best writer—that I’ve known. She has earned the benefit of the doubt. So I let it linger in my mind a beat longer. And there’s nothing cliche about it. Unquarantinable love is what we are consistently shocked to realize we receive from God. Here, in the middle of “this time” is, if not a new phrase, a new resonance that brings out Easter in a new light. Unquarantinable love.
Humanity has done everything it can to fend off God’s love. We have read the Ten Commandments and broken them with gusto and flourish. We have created gods in our own image, have failed to see the presence of God in one another, and have abused the creation around us. When we caught the ultimate break, you know, when God took human form and lived and healed and taught as one of us, we persecuted Jesus, tortured him, and nailed him to a cross, because to do otherwise would have meant really thinking hard about changing our ways.
It’s baffling, to see ourselves doing these things. Why squander these gifts? Why turn away from love and develop exquisite technology of punishment and death? It is, I believe, because we squander the greatest of our gifts. The gift of being unconditionally loved. We are fundamentally uncomfortable with our human predicament. Bestowed with the unbelievably improbable miracle of life, we cannot help but live in fear of life’s end. Our eyes are constantly drawn to the shadows at the end of the tunnel. We worry that, because we are going to die someday, we are insufficient. And we try to scrabble together enough of an advantage over our fellows that we might become immune to death. It is an impossible and foolish task, but we are obsessed with it.
And now in our quarantine, when for the first time in generations being a good citizen means real daily sacrifices for all, and real suffering for many, the structures through which we express ourselves and grapple for advantages and for justice are all attenuated for the greater good. The noise dies down and in the quiet we are stuck with ourselves.
Three women went out early in the morning to care for his body. Hope was lost, but love was not, and anyway he was theirs and somebody should take care of him. So they went, and when they found the tomb empty, hope came back in a wildly disorienting way.
Humanity had thrown away its last best shot. Had done it in gruesome fashion. And Jesus came back. For no good reason, really. We had really, truly blown it. And Jesus came back. Because God is not driven by the calculations of evening up scores and shoring up advantage at others’ expense. God’s love is, by our standards, uncivilized. Civilized love is far too rational and careful, and bails out way before it gets to a cross.
But God’s love is not civilized. It is not quarantinable. We sure treated it like a virus. In the depths of misery, God loved us from the cross. Not because we deserved it. Not because it settled some score. Because we had nailed God to a cross, and God’s love is wild and uncivilized. We left God’s love to die, then isolated it in a tomb sealed with a huge rock, so that it would not spread and undermine all the lies we tell ourselves about who we really are. But on the third day that tomb was empty. The story of Jesus was not over.
This is unquarantinable love. It bursts the bounds we try to set around it. Death does not stop it. Mortality does not stop it. Suffering does not stop it. Isolation does not stop it. All of the things that give us pause, that cause our polite, civilized love to start hoarding toilet paper, are trampled under the feet of unquarantinable love. The resurrection is a complicated thing, and if you struggle with it, trust me, I understand. But at its simplest and perhaps most profound level, the story did not stop. Love didn’t avoid death, or mortality, or suffering, or isolation. Love marched right through them. Jesus claimed death, mortality, and suffering as part of God’s kingdom. Where civilized love turns fearful and falters, God’s love soldiers on.
Unquarantinable love does not reveal the deeper meaning of our quarantine. I expect there will not be a deeper meaning. I suspect that the quarantine just is, with no layers much deeper than slowing the spread of a deadly virus. I don’t know. But unquarantinable love plays a radical countertheme against our present isolation and restlessness, reminding us that the wild and blessedly unreasonable love of God can be felt in any circumstance. Unquarantinable love cannot be chased away or ignored into submission. It springs back in the next moment, no matter what we do. Jesus made visible the unruly tendrils of life, gaudy in the springtime sun, that constantly reclaim the fortifications we put up to keep death outside the gates.
So, people of God, know today that you are loved. Know that nothing about you can be a barrier to that love. Know that the fragility and inadequacies you loathe in yourself are met with a love that cannot be scandalized or shocked. The rules for who deserves love are—and this bears repeating—all made up by people. Today, in the empty tomb, it turns out that every single person is wildly, irrationally, beautifully loved by a God who simply will not stop pouring out unquarantinable love on our quarantined world. Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen, Indeed.