For the first time in at least a century, American Christians (and others around the world, to be sure) are going to experience Good Friday and Easter more acutely than they have before. Most evangelical churches had, up until a few weeks ago, been planning for Easter to be a major event, full of activities designed to attract the curious or disengaged to have an “experience” with Jesus.
I will suggest here that God’s people have an opportunity to “experience” Easter in the most authentic way.
Consider the days after Jesus’s crucifixion. The disciples are in their homes, sheltering-in-place from the shame and humiliation of being attached to Christ being crucified. As I’ve written elsewhere, crucifixion carried with it a humiliation that extended beyond death. The whole purpose was to dehumanize and degrade far more than it was ever to cause physical suffering. The public display of this dehumanization was designed by the Persians and Romans to ensure that insurrection would be eradicated by heaping humiliation upon all who would associate with the one crucified.
In my view, that accounts, naturally speaking, for the disciples’ scramble to disassociate themselves from Christ. They were trying to avoid the humiliation and scorn attached to association with a crucified person (Jn 20:19).
So, on the first Easter, they found themselves cowering in their homes, sheltering from a wrath raging on the outside. But the risen Lord appeared to them, giving them his peace.
It is time for American Christians to embrace this true meaning of Easter. We who are collectively cowering in our homes either to prevent or avoid death are sitting in a real tomb—that is, death is all around us. We are all in our own homes right now, waiting on the CDC to roll back the stone and allow us to go again to church, stores, parks, concerts, and restaurants. But, if we Christians lead well in this coming week, we will have the greatest opportunity in our friends’ lives to impress upon them that we are all dead apart from Christ. But with a liberation greater than any the CDC could offer, Easter points us to the fact that God does liberate his people from death to life in Christ.
So, how can we cultivate this attitude going into Easter? I propose four things:
- Read the news and actually mourn the colossal death tallies being published. These are people’s children, siblings, and parents, and their death is not natural. Death is quite unnatural. So unnatural in fact that God became man to die so that death might die. Multiple your mourning here.
- Remember to lament in the days leading up to Easter. I don’t practice Lent, but I do believe that the practice of lamentation is critical for healthy spiritual development. Psalms of lament are God-inspired prayers to give words of expression to our suffering hearts. They are a gracious gift. Praying that you are losing your faith is not an act of faithlessness. Confessing your unbelief in struggle is precisely the mechanism God uses to grow faith in your heart as you look to him in your suffering.
- Repent of your own presumptions of immortality. The common grace of modern medicine has tricked us into thinking that death is not imminent. In the premodern world, five of your seven children would have died before the age of five. Moses taught us that numbering our days is the path to wisdom. I’ve chosen Psalm 33 to guide my repentance.
- Rejoice in the fact that death does not have the final say. Our temporary groanings are giving way to the perfection of our faith. So, with the Apostle Paul, we proclaim: “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
I didn’t even intend on those all being R’s. But we can chalk it up to me reading a lot about R-naught’s and RNA recently.
Let’s not waste COVID-19. Let’s not waste our Easter.