Thanks to recent events, our Easter looks quite different for many people, but is that necessarily a bad thing?
With much of the world in quarantine thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, this Easter has the potential to look quite different for many of us.
Pastor of a church in Padova, Italy, Leonard De Chirico wrote thoughtfully about the disruptions that COVID-19 has brought to the church. “We’re being forced to think about what’s really essential in order for our services to be celebrated in a way that honors God and edifies his people. We’re appreciating afresh the centrality of the Word preached, the beauty of simple singing, the power of Scripture reading, and the sweetness of Christian fellowship and prayer.
“The coronavirus is reminding us that church life doesn’t depend on spacious buildings, commodities, or special effects. Church life has become too dependent on non-necessary things. It’s time to appreciate what’s essential.
“Technology helps—but only to an extent. Even the best technology has limits…. The coronavirus outbreak is an opportunity to rely on God and to test the quality, wisdom, and breadth of our ministry. What we’ve sowed in the life of the church and in people’s lives over the years will spring up and bring fruit.
“His [God’s] providence stretches from favorable seasons to tragic events. His plans surpass our imagination. His authority sits over evil. His control masters what is unknown. His presence is always with his people. His purposes bring glory to himself, working for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28).”
Perhaps no time is better to remember these truths than on Easter.
Sacrifices to Heal the World’s Hurts
The first Easter was a troubled one, and that can be easy to forget in times of new Easter clothes and cheerful church services laden with lilies and bright lights. Jesus rose Easter morning, yes, but most of his disciples were still in the dark about his new life.
They were contemplating persecution by the Jewish religious leaders and the dismal prospect of their lives turned upside down by the gruesome murder of their leader, teacher and dear friend.
For them, the sun dawned on a day filled with fresh reminders of scattered purpose and hard decisions ahead. Only Christ’s arrival could banish their fears. Only he had the power to move those anxieties, redirect their hearts. Only his presence can give his people peace.
That truth hasn’t changed between then and now.
David Wilkerson mused in an Easter sermon, “Before Jesus was crucified, he rode a little colt into the city of Jerusalem. He was looking over the city, and the Bible said he wept….in the Greek, it’s ‘he wailed loudly,’ a cry that could be heard everywhere.
“He was seeing these people go into the temple and buying these lambs and pigeons, trying to make peace with their God, trying to find some way to pay back the transgressions of last week or today. I think in his eye, he saw the whole world, all of these religions and all of these people trying desperately to find peace and hope.
“Jesus went in and drove out the moneychangers; but those people who were going in and out, Jesus knew they were sincere. When you see these multitudes in this city, they’re sincere. These people are searching and seeking peace, a sacrifice of some kind.”
The world is seeking a sacrifice to heal its wrongs. It’s desperately reaching out for anything that might offer it stability and security.
A Deadly Perspective Infection
In one of his lectures given on the cusp of Adolf Hitler’s election as chancellor of Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer urgently spoke on how our view of Jesus and his work on the cross can deeply affect our lives. “One admires Christ according to aesthetic categories as an aesthetic genius, calls him the greatest ethicist; one admires his going to his death as a heroic sacrifice for his ideas.
“Only one thing one doesn’t do: one doesn’t take him seriously. That is, one doesn’t bring the center of his or her own life into contact with the claim of Christ to speak the revelation of God and to be that revelation. One maintains a distance between himself or herself and the word of Christ, and allows no serious encounter to take place.
“I can doubtless live with or without Jesus as a religious genius, as an ethicist, as a gentleman — just as, after all, I can also live without Plato and Kant….”
This view of Christ’s sacrifice was one Bonhoeffer was witnessing become commonplace in his traditionally Christian country, and the trivialization of God’s life on earth was one Bonhoeffer would spend a great deal of energy combatting through his writings and preaching.
It’s a view that is unfortunately quite common among many modern churches. How many people more or less say to themselves on Easter, “Ah, yes, Jesus the good man whose nice moral rules improve our lives. How glad I am that he came to make things better for us!”
Bonhoeffer pointed out the deadly error in this perspective.
“Should, however, there be something in Christ that claims my life entirely with the full seriousness that here God himself speaks and if the word of God once became present only in Christ, then Christ has not only relative but absolute, urgent significance for me….
“Understanding Christ means taking Christ seriously. Understanding this claim means taking seriously his absolute claim on our commitment.”
As many of us find the traditional trappings of Easter stripped away, we might focus in on the vital core of this holiday. We remember the Son of God, the Son of Man whose business in this world was not to tidy up people’s lives but to shatter their notions that they could ever redeem themselves and then give them hope of still being saved.
Living as Earth’s Extraterrestrials
Matthew S. Harmon, professor of New Testament Studies at Grace College & Seminary, emphatically explained how it’s not hyperbolic in the least to say that Jesus rising from the dead changes everything.
Jesus’ resurrection revolutionized us, the church and the world.
“Romans 6:1–11 talks about how everyone who is joined to Jesus Christ by faith has died, been buried, and raised with Christ. And since that is true, we are no longer slaves of sin but, instead, we are slaves of righteousness, given the power by the Spirit of God to obey him and to be his instruments of righteousness. And then Romans 8:10–17 goes on to talk about how the Spirit of the one who raised Christ from the dead lives in us to empower us to put sin to death. And Hebrews 2:14–15 talks about the fact that Jesus has delivered us from the devil and from the fear of death.
“Because Jesus rose from the dead, we have this remarkable promise that the Spirit of God lives in us and empowers us to be free from our slavery to sin and to death and the devil. That is just unbelievable in terms of its practical application.
“Romans 8:18–25 tells us the creation is groaning right now under the weight of the curse, waiting for the day when God will completely transform all of creation so that the entire universe will be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14). And when that day comes, Revelation 21:3–4 tells us that we will come face to face with God himself.
“Every stain of the fall and the curse will be gone from creation, every tear wiped away, no more death, no more sorrow, no more weeping. All of it is done away with and all of that stems ultimately from the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.”
Jesus’ life and resurrection has not only redeemed our relationships with God but has also launched us into a countdown for Christ’s second coming and the world’s final healing and transformation.
“Folks, we are not of this world,” David Wilkerson emphatically stated. “We are another world. We are just passing through here.”
That knowledge gives us a real reason to rejoice and a future to long for, especially in the middle of challenging times.