It appears this year we won’t have all those Easter Sunday traditions we’ve all come to know and love. No Easter brunches. No egg hunts. No new Easter clothes and cute shoes to flaunt in public. No family get togethers. No on-site worship services singing songs together in celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
With all the cancelations, one might think Easter 2020 will be canceled as well.
But that will not be the case. Easter will happen next Sunday just like it has nearly 2,000 years. And although we will not have the usual Easter festivities, that first Easter and Easter 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic will have more than one thing in common.
Being Jewish, Jesus and his followers have just finished celebrating Passover when anxiety first strikes. With the future already known to him, Jesus experiences real, physical anxiety in the Garden of Gethsemane. Facing his own death, he knows it will be bloody and excruciatingly torturous at the hands of Roman soldiers. Even though he is 100% divine, he is also 100% human and not immune to the feelings and emotions we experience in the face of stress and uncertainty in our lives. His followers experience the anxiety of watching events unfold as Jesus is arrested, tried and convicted in the speediest trial ever….helpless to change or be in control of anything. And don’t forget, Jesus has a mother who experiences anxiety over the safety of her child; anxiety over the thought of his death; anxiety over a future that is anything but secure. The sorrow and agony are overwhelming. When Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb the morning of the third day and sees the seal broken and stone rolled away, she is certainly anxious at what she wonders might have happened and what she should do now.
After his arrest, his followers are practicing serious social distancing to avoid being arrested and convicted of crimes against Rome. Fear is everywhere. Can you imagine trying to find some place to hide from Roman soldiers after being so prominently exposed as a follower of Jesus for three years? Can you imagine the fear of realizing you may also be put to death by crucifixion? All the disciples’ plans, hopes and dreams are destroyed in a matter of days. Nothing remains except death, emptiness and fear as to what is going to happen next. Sleepless nights, depression and despair take hold of every part of their being. After Jesus dies, his body is hastily laid in a tomb without proper preparation as the Sabbath approaches. The religious leaders are so fearful at the possibility his followers will steal the body and claim he rose from the dead, they require the tomb be sealed. They live in fear that what Jesus said would happen will actually happen. And, there is probably a very good reason why the women who arrive at the tomb on that third day are told not to be afraid. After all, it’s not every day one comes upon someone whose appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. “Fear Not” should absolutely be the first words spoken to them.
Fear and anxiety are part of the Easter story. And they are part of our story as well. We live in fearful and anxious times. Every day seems to bring new fears and worry is at an all time high. Listen to the news outlets and we don’t want to step foot outside our homes. Death projections and the obstruction of our daily lives as we know them are everywhere. Panic is front and center in the middle of this pandemic. Fear and anxiety beats us down and infiltrates our hearts and minds. Before this all ends, I expect suicides, abuse and addictions will increase as families stay socially isolated with only hysterical social media and news outlets for company.
But, along with fear and anxiety, there is also….
Imagine after two days of desperation, unbearable grief, paralyzing fear and anxiety, you are suddenly given news that is music to your ears. When the women encounter the heavenly being at the tomb, they receive news that turns their sorrow to unbelief and then to joy. They run to tell the others what they’ve seen and heard. Shock turns to hope and their mindsets begin to change. Hope begins to take a foothold, drowning out the paralyzing fear spread by those driving the narrative of defeat. As more positive news filters in, followers begin to become re-grounded in the promises they now know to be true. The negative groupthink fades and followers become empowered and fearless in spreading positivity. All of a sudden they cannot be stopped. In the middle of all the negative news stories surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many stories of hope and positive actions taking place all over our country. Stories of people helping people in ingenious ways. Stories of people coming together (figuratively) to assist and overcome challenges.
The fear and anxiety surrounding the death of Jesus is transformed through his resurrection as pure joy for those who put their hope and faith in Christ Jesus. As Christians, we fully realize recent events going on around us and should not minimize or be reckless in our actions at this time. But we also find rest and reassurance for our hearts and minds in the promises given those many centuries ago. Just as it happened that first Easter morning at the empty tomb, hope courses through our bodies and we are empowered. Hope and faith are forces that cannot be reckoned with.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
For Christians all around the world, Easter cannot be canceled. We carry the resurrection in our hearts all year. I wish for all of you a Happy Easter full of new life, new hopes and a renewed faith.