WASHINGTON. New Testament scripture recounts how a large stone covered the entrance to Christ’s tomb, with Roman sentries stationed nearby. These precautions were designed to prevent his disciples recovering his body, saying, “He has been raised from the dead,” says the Gospel of Matthew.
More than two thousand years later, governments, state and local, confronted with combatting the spread of coronavirus, have stationed sentries outside many Christian churches to prevent assemblies of parishioners from proclaiming, “He has risen.”
US District Judge Cynthia A. Bashant, for one, ruled that California’s San Diego County has the power to “reasonably restrict” the constitutional right of parishioners at Abiding Place Ministries from celebrating Easter service.
And San Diego County health official Dr. Wilma Wooten warned Pastor Mark Spitsbergen:
“If members of your congregation do not abide by my order, the Sheriff will take actions necessary to enforce the order.”
Meanwhile, in Lodi, California, near San Francisco, Pastor Jon Duncan discovered that the locks to his church doors were changed by his landlord. He did so under orders from the city. And local police are stationed outside the church.
In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear ordered state troopers to record the license plates of churchgoers who defy his stay-at-home order. They will receive a mandatory 14-day quarantine order.
Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron expressed his dismay at Gov. Beshear’s actions to the Lexington Herald Leader:
“Directing a uniformed presence at church services to record the identity of worshippers and to force a quarantine, while doing no such thing for the people gathered at retail stores or obtaining an abortion, is the definition of arbitrary.”
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul weighed in via Twitter:
“Taking license plates at church? Quarantining someone for being a Christian on Easter Sunday? Someone needs to take a step back here.”
Solid Rock Church of Lebanon, Ohio, plans to hold Easter services in defiance of Gov. Mike DeWine’s order:
“Fortunately, our facility is large enough that we are able to easily ensure that everyone who is physically in the facility is practicing the physical distancing; we are providing additional cleaning and hand sanitizing stations; and we are holding some services outside to allow for more distance.”
The church website states they “are open and continuing to practice and sustain our faith.”
In Idaho, anti-government activist Ammon Bundy who, along with his father and brothers, was acquitted on charges stemming from his armed confrontations with federal authorities in Nevada and Oregon, told CNN his gun is loaded and ready to bear.
“Our goal is to get enough people together and secure our rights… we are not trying to provoke. We want people to be able to worship.”
It’s not likely state and local authorities will have any more success in preventing the Christian faithful from attending Easter Sunday services than Rome’s sentries were at preventing the resurrection.
This defiance was noted by G.K. Chesterton in his essay “Resurrection”:
“We do not believe that there are any lost causes; we do not admit that there are any hopeless loyalties; and we should come back to our religion at last, if its temples were as deserted as Stonehenge.”
Why such certitude in the face of pandemics and the overbearing actions of government authorities? It’s found in the hope inspired by that empty tomb so long ago. For in its vacant darkness, we catch a bright glimpse of what’s to come.
In his poem “The Convert,” Chesterton ends: