This Easter will be unlike any other, perhaps in the history of the Church. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most church buildings will remain locked and empty on what is usually the best-attended Sunday service of the year.
Historically, the Church has set apart the 40 days before Easter as a time of repentance, reflection, confession, and lament. The solemnity of Lent culminates at the foot of the cross. For some churches, the Good Friday service ends in darkness and silence, which the church will break at sunrise with shouts of hope and joy on Easter morning.
That the pandemic has come during the season of repentance and reflection also seems fitting. Some have joked about not having expected to give up so much for Lent. Expected or not, this has been a sobering time, especially as we think of those dying from the virus, often alone and isolated from loved ones.
Around the world, national quarantines have canceled activities and gatherings, moved classes online, and drastically altered our daily schedules and social interactions. The health risks and continued economic toll heighten uncertainty and fear. For many, the ongoing lockdown breeds loneliness and even depression.
Among our ScholarLeaders community, we have seen students unable to return home because of travel bans and quarantines. Closed campuses will mean delays in graduating and returning to ministry back home. Financial pressures cascade for individuals and theological schools alike. Though we work across many regions that have faced epidemics and catastrophes, the global scale of this crisis is unprecedented.
In the Bible, lament has an important place in the life of God’s people. Lament reminds us that grief is real. As sin and brokenness plague our world, lament expresses sorrow, disappointment, and regret. But lament also expresses hope. We come before God because things are not the way they ought to be. We also come because we have confidence that God cares about our pain and acts redemptively in the world today.
On that first Easter morning, those closest to Jesus also felt deep disappointment. Jesus’ death had dashed their dreams of liberation from the oppression of Rome. Uncertainty and fear took hold. On that first Easter Sunday, the women in the garden wondered where the body could have gone, the disciples huddled behind locked doors, and the travelers to Emmaus spoke in hushed tones, trying to make sense of all that had happened in Jerusalem over the last three days.
The hope in their lament was not disappointed. As they encountered the living Christ, sorrow gave way to wonder and excitement. They could declare with great joy that the tomb was empty – not because someone had moved the body – but because Jesus Christ had risen indeed.
These are uncertain and unsettling times. But this Easter morning, like the first-century church, we bear witness to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and act where we can in the world around us (Acts 4:33). Church buildings may be still and empty, but the hope of Christ is very much alive and active in the world today.
He is risen.
He is risen again!