What Holy Week reminds us of in the midst of a pandemic

April 7, 2020

I wouldn’t have realized the next morning was Sunday if my wife and I hadn’t talked about it the night before. I didn’t even realize that it was Palm Sunday until I looked at Twitter after I woke up. And now, in the midst of Holy Week, I am struggling to remember if it is Maundy Thursday or Holy Tuesday. 

Life in the midst of the coronavirus has caused every day to blur together. If the liturgy for Passover were written today, the opening question would not be “Why is tonight different from all other nights.” Instead, we would say, “Why is this day just like every other day?” Every day is filled with social distancing, a blending of one moment into the next with no end in sight, and an interminable supply of news fit to induce anxiety. Yet, this week, of all weeks, should provide us with hope and a reminder that this is not like all days and this is not like every week. 

As I have written before, the church calendar is one way to structure time and the Christian life. The calendar carries you from Advent and Christmas to Lent and Easter, before sending you out at Pentecost and finally, at the end (or the middle really), there is “Ordinary Time” as you await the next Advent of Christ. What is true of the church calendar in general is true of Holy Week. Regardless of whether you attend a church with all the “smells and bells” or one where the pastor wears skinny jeans and the worship service looks like a concert venue complete with fog machine and bass guitar, the liturgy of Holy Week reminds us in these moments of unending monotony that something unique was happening in the history of the world. The days leading up to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection remind us that this was the hinge of history and the moment when nothing would ever be the same.

The Week had a purpose

Part of the reason that these weeks of social isolation are so debilitating is that they strip away our sense of purpose. Rather than wake up for a day structured around a job or school, our lives are now guided by which show we have binged on Netflix and the unending number of Zoom calls and Skype meetings. Even those fortunate enough to be able to work from home are left wanting more because the virus has stripped any semblance of a routine or goals for the week. The goal is simply to make it through intact while juggling a job, homeschooling children, maintaining your health, and managing the fear and anxiety that come from being in a pandemic. 

Holy Week reminds us that purpose exists amid the chaos surrounding us. The disciples definitely didn’t understand what it meant for Jesus to “set his face toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). No matter how many times he told them what would happen, they just seemed to think that the goal was something else. But Jesus knew what his purpose was. He knew how the week would end and what it would mean for humanity. Even amidst all the busyness of Passover, and the cleansing of the temple, Jesus was not distracted from the cross. 

For the Christian, this should be an encouragement because it means that our goal of just making it through this time is enough. We don’t have to search out the purpose of the pandemic (as if we could). We only have to remain faithful in the daily tasks in front of us knowing that we rest in the completed work of Christ. Will the laundry still be there tomorrow or the dishes still unwashed later tonight? Possibly. But we are free from the anxiety of thinking we need to accomplish “one more thing” because we know that Christ has already set his face to Jerusalem and fulfilled all things (Eph. 1:10). 

The Week had a hope

Hope is an interesting thing. Rather than have hope be a nebulous thing in a box like the ancient Greeks, causing us to question if it is good or bad, Christians know that hope is the promise of God. After Adam and Eve’s sin, God pronounces judgement, but he also gives hope in Genesis 3 when he speaks of a coming child who will crush the serpent’s head, even as the serpent strikes his heel (Gen. 3:15). That hope is reaffirmed at every messianic prophecy throughout the Old Testament, and again in Luke 2 when Simeon and Anna rejoice that they have seen the newborn Savior (Luke 2:25-38). Holy Week was the moment when the hope of history came to a point.

In the midst of these unending weeks of isolation and sickness, it can be hard to remember that there is hope. Even Holy Week seems devoid of optimism as it progresses. The triumphant entry on Sunday becomes the betrayal in the garden on Thursday. The crowd that shouted “Hosanna in the highest” is the same one that shouted “Crucify him!” There is a definite turn in the narrative, and it looks like there is no hope. Jesus is betrayed, crucified, and buried. The disciples are scattered. Where is the hope? 

The hope is the promise made before Holy Week started. It is the assurance that somehow, amid all the suffering, God is at work. The same is true for us in the midst of the pandemic, whether his work is seen in the acts of generosity as people care for their elderly and vulnerable neighbors, as they socially distance themselves to “flatten the curve,” or in the moments of just reaching out to talk to someone because we are feeling isolated. Holy Week offers us a reminder that even in the middle of the chaos and pain and anxiety, there are moments of hope, we just have to know where to look. 

The Week had an end

Easter isn’t actually part of Holy Week. Holy Week ends on Saturday, and Easter officially starts the next movement in the church calendar. In some ways, it’s strange that we end Holy Week with a dead Savior, scattered disciples, and an unfulfilled longing. But in another it is fitting, because the start of Easter is the start of the rest of history. So, of course we should have a new time to mark the calendar. The first disciples didn’t know it on Saturday, but the end was coming. 

It is good to remember this during these weeks when everything seems the same: there will come a time when the pandemic will end. We don’t know when, or what the world will look like afterward, but a day will come when we look back. Some will look back with nostalgia to a time of proximity to family (or maybe frustration at too much proximity). Others will look back with sorrow because of family or friends lost, or lives displaced by the economic impact. We don’t need to glide past the reality of death and sorrow. That is how Holy Week ends, with disciples cowering in an upper room and thinking their Lord is dead. Nothing is more fitting for Holy Week than holy sorrow. 

But Easter is coming. And that should remind us all that there will be an end to our sorrow and social distancing—a time when we can gather together as the church and break bread with one another and talk without a computer screen or surgical mask between us. Holy Week reminds us that this is not like all other weeks, and also that Easter (and an end to this current pandemic) is coming. And that is the glorious hope that we have. 

Alex Ward

Alex Ward serves as the research associate and project manager for the ERLC’s research initiatives. He manages long term research projects for the organization under the leadership of the director of research. Alex is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the University of Mississippi studying evangelical political activity in … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24