World Tragedy During Holy Week

Dr. Craig von BuseckBy Dr. Craig von Buseck9 Minutes

“Well, it’s tragically fitting that we’re talking at the beginning of Holy Week because this is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on Palm Sunday, comparing it to historic national tragedies. “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that.”

Just as we experienced on September 11th or during the Pearl Harbor attack, the Coronavirus pandemic came upon us suddenly and without warning. Now many people are wondering if mankind has ever experienced anything like this.

Holy Week marks the events surrounding the torture and death of Jesus Christ. Ironically, it has been a time of tragedy at other times throughout history, as it is today with the Coronaviris crisis. As we endure the challenges of Holy Week 2020, it may be helpful to see how our forebearers overcame the tragedies they faced during the Easter season.

The Best and Worst News in One Week

On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, Union forces surrounded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, forcing General Robert E. Lee to surrender. Later that day, Union Lt. Colonel Elisha Hunt Rhodes wrote of this momentous day in his diary:

Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth, good will to men! Thank God Lee has surrendered, and the war will soon end. … Such a scene only happens once in centuries. … I was in the first battle fought by the dear old Army of the Potomac, and I was in the last. I thank God for all his blessings to me and that my life has been spared to see this glorious day.

Beginning that evening, Washington, D.C. was illuminated and a city-wide party began, despite the fact that it was Holy Week. Newspapers reported that some parishioners attended Good Friday services with a hangover.

But the revelry turned to horror in an instant on the evening of that fateful Good Friday at Ford’s Theatre. Armed with a Derringer Pistol, John Wilkes Booth quietly slipped into the presidential box and assassinated Abraham Lincoln. The unconscious president was carried across the street into a boarding house, his tall body laid diagonally across a small bed.

Lincoln died at 7:22 a.m. the following morning surrounded by his son, Robert, Cabinet members, and several military officers. At the moment of his passing, Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton famously declared, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

It was the death of a liberator, murdered on Good Friday. One of history’s great ironies.

New York City lawyer, George Templeton Strong wrote in his diary:

I am stunned, as by a fearful personal calamity, though I can see that this thing, occurring just at this time, may be overruled to our great good. … We shall appreciate him at last.

A Week of Sorrows

Holy Week seems to be a time of historical irony. As Christians remember the suffering of their Savior, some great tragedies in history have fallen during this most sacred time.

  • An earthquake in Caracas, Venezuala, during Holy Week in 1812 killed more than 20,000 people.
  • On March 29, 1850, Ireland’s SS Royal Adelaide sank in a storm and 200 people died.
  • On April 11, 1881, the river ferry “Princess Victoria” sank in Thames River, Ontario, claiming 180 lives.
  • During Holy Week in 1936, Tupelo, Mississippi, was devastated by a tornado, killing 216. The following day another tornado killed 203 and injured 1,800 in Gainesville, Georgia.
  • In 2019, 259 people were killed and more than 500 injured when radical jihadists bombed Christian churches on Easter Sunday in Columbo, Sri Lanka.

The Burning of an Icon

In another of history’s ironies, during Holy Week in 2019, the roof of the great Cathedral of Notre Dame ignited and flames raced through the ancient wooden canopy. The fire destroyed the medieval cathedral’s roof, toppled the spire, and almost brought down the main bell towers and outer walls before firefighters brought it under control. The Coronavirus pandemic has delayed the restoration project. As a result, it is feared that 551 tons of fire-damaged metal lattice perched on the roof could come crashing down, destroying even more of the landmark.

In 2020, due to the mandatory lockdown during the Coronavirus outbreak, a small congregation of worshipers held a short service on Good Friday at Notre Dame. Seven people attended the televised meditation ceremony. “Only a few priests will attend the masses that we will celebrate during the Holy Week and people will be able to follow services on radio or on television,” Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit announced during a video news conference prior to Good Friday that year.

I Am With You Always

The grand Notre Dame Cathedral serves as a symbol during this time of uncertainty. It has withstood fire, and now it is enduring the isolation of the Coronavirus pandemic – and still it stands as a beacon of God’s hope to a frightened world –  just as each of us who belong to the Lord serve as His ambassadors of love and grace in this fallen world.

Speaking to His disciples at the Last Supper during the first Holy Week, Jesus gave this comforting promise:

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33 NASB).

After giving this reassurance, Jesus went to the cross where he took upon Himself the sins of everyone who ever lived, becoming the sinless Passover Lamb promised in the Old Testament. Then He rose from the dead, defeating once and for all time the scourge of death and opening the way for you and me to be with God forever.

These acts assure all those who believe that we will have His peace, both on earth and throughout eternity.

Before rising into heaven, Jesus met with His disciples and made one final promise to them, and to us.

I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20 NASB)

As you walk through this difficult time, you can be assured as a follower of Christ that Jesus is with you. If you do not have a relationship with God through Jesus, today is the day to invite Christ to be your Lord and Savior. He promises to be with you in this special way, living in your heart and walking by your side day by day.

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