Easter is usually a time of vibrancy and life. For many of us, Easter includes dressing up in bright pastels, gathering with family and friends, and maybe even hunting for colored eggs. Those traditions seem wholly inappropriate given our current situation.
Instead, we’re left wondering what happened to Easter in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 has turned our world upside-down, causing many to question where God is in the mess. How can we celebrate the life and joy represented by Easter at a time like this?
But for those who are open enough or desperate enough to look again, I believe this Easter has the potential to be more important than any in our lifetime.
Our world is searching for answers. A recent study found that internet searches around prayer doubled for every 80,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. But why do people turn to God at a time when God feels absent? Could it be that we deeply want to believe in the God of Easter—a God who suffers with us, for us, and overcomes sin and death? Has there ever been a moment the collective human race was more longing for such a God?
If you are not feeling very hopeful ahead of Easter 2020, I have good news for you: you are in good company. The first Easter didn’t seem like good news for Jesus’ followers in the week leading up to it either. No one would have looked at a beaten Jesus, unjustly accused, abandoned and hung on a cross and said, “That is good news.”
But that’s exactly the paradoxical way God works. Through Jesus, God was doing something no one would have expected to show us how much he cares. Instead of being some impersonal deity, sitting on a royal golden throne surrounded by angels, Jesus became flesh and blood. He walked our soil and felt our pain. This is what makes the Christian faith so unique: our God suffers with and for us. The story of Easter teaches us that when our world feels upside-down, God is often at work setting it right-side-up.
Easter is more than a morale booster. This Holy Week has more than enough power to
shoulder the weight of pain, fear and isolation many of us feel. And when we watch rising death tolls that represent the loss of family, friends and loved ones, Easter doesn’t seek to shun or sugarcoat our pain behind some cute bunny. Instead, it points us to a cross where pain was felt by the most undeserving of victims so that all those who die never need to fear death again.
The message of Easter shines brightest in the dark, and this message needs to be heard now more than ever. According to the Economist, online searches for virtual church experiences went up by nearly 500% between March 2 and April 1. What people are really searching for is hope. Despite the physical limitations we have due to social distancing, I’m encouraged by how churches have responded to this dramatic shift in how we approach ministry. From megachurches producing state-of-the-art TV programming to small congregations meeting via videoconferencing, the church is still doing its job of reaching people with the message of Easter. Just this past week, we saw more than half a million people from the U.S. and around the world join us online via YouTube and Facebook for an all-day event designed to encourage pastors and ministry leaders who are pouring themselves out to comfort people during this crisis. The way we do church may be changing, but the heart of it remains the same.
This Easter, one that none of us planned or expected, could just be the greatest of our lifetime. Our hope has been shaken from our health, our jobs, our savings, and the stock market by an invisible and indiscriminate evil that has impacted us all. Yet COVID-19 is reminding us our hope isn’t in buildings, man-made systems, pastors or platforms. Our hope is in a crucified Jesus and an empty tomb.
This isn’t the Easter any of us wanted—but it may be the Easter we desperately need.
Nick Hall, is an evangelist and author. He is the creative visionary behind the Leader Check-In and Together 2020 gatherings and the Year of the Bible campaign and the host of The Bible Quarantine. Follow him @NickHallPulse.