“How are you doing with all of this? How are you really doing?” one of my friends asked me recently. We were on a video call, both quarantined at home. I think I told her that I was doing well, grateful to be able to work from home, knowing I was blessed to have food and shelter in these tumultuous times, and so on. But what I wish I would have said was the more honest answer: as our world continues to turn upside down, I have often felt discouraged, scared, and hopeless.
Easter will not be the same this year. With the world in a state of panic and family and friends separated from one another, the joy and togetherness of Easter seem lost. Every day brings different mandates for quarantine, more names on the list of confirmed cases, fresh sorrow as the death toll rises. Friends and family are being laid off. Students and parents struggle to cope with the lack of school. Churches sit empty. Essential workers risk infection every day to keep our world functioning. Medical professionals are being overwhelmed and in some places being forced to make impossible decisions about life and death. Although Easter is nearly here, it seems the world lacks its usual color and brightness.
If I am honest, it’s true that I am not looking forward to Easter this year . . . but I am ready to receive the hope that it brings. Perhaps the discouragement that we are feeling may be something that actually helps us prepare to receive the hope that Easter is all about.
I think about the days leading up to that very first Easter when Jesus was crucified. Because many of us know the Easter story inside out, it’s easy for us to jump to the celebration part. Jesus is risen! He’s alive! He paid the penalty for our sins! He reigns forever!
But in light of current events—quarantine and cancellations, sickness and grief—we are closer to understanding the atmosphere of the first Easter. The disciples, who I always sort of look down upon as foolish and flakey, don’t seem so foreign anymore. Their fear, uncertainty, and doubt mirrors my own in the face of this coronavirus pandemic.
As they witnessed Jesus’ arrest, interrogation, beating, and the long road to Calvary, their confusion and panic must have been overwhelming. They didn’t understand what was happening, even though Jesus told them about it ahead of time. They did not yet see the happy ending—they saw only the cross. Are you struggling to see where God is in all of this? We are in good company.
The disciples continuously stumbled in their fear. One lashed out in violence and cut off a soldier’s ear, one denied knowing Jesus three times, two were frightened of angels at the tomb, more initially refused to believe witnesses who saw Jesus resurrected. In many ways their response reminds me of my own these last few weeks—a response of fear, worry, anger, and even apathy. Trying to deal with this pandemic in my own strength leads only to a wrong response. Even going to the grocery store, feeling suspicious of those around me, fighting the urge to take more supplies than I need just to protect myself, has betrayed my fallen nature.
Because of that first Easter, however, we have an unshakable hope in something greater than ourselves. The hope we have is this: Jesus went to the cross and in doing so made us able to become friends of God (John 15:15). He conquered sin and death and freed us from condemnation (Romans 8:1). He left us with the Holy Spirit as our advocate, counselor, comforter, and friend (John 14:26). He enables us to pray directly to the father in Jesus’s name and to receive what we ask for (John 16:23). He promised to come back for us one day and make all things right (John 14:28, Revelation 21:5).
Yes, Easter will look different this year. But this hope is as wonderful and world-changing today as it was on that first Easter. It’s strong and vibrant and life-giving, even in the face of our current global pandemic. It overcomes all our fears and failures, and gives us a greater strength than we can muster on our own.
“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus says. “But take heart, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).