About 15 years ago, I spent some time in Russia doing mission work. While gathering with a Baptist church one Lord’s Day, I was speaking with a local who was fluent in English. We were discussing Easter Sunday and the difference in the way Russians and Americans celebrate. He informed me that due to the suffering they had experienced, many in their country identified with the suffering of Christ in a way which impacted their Easter/Resurrection Sunday. Instead of the high energy, celebratory services often done in America, their services were more somber. They certainly celebrated the Resurrection and the hope it provides, but they placed much emphasis on the suffering of Christ.
It seems this year will be a more somber experience for many of us, and most of us won’t even gather on Resurrection Sunday. There will be no matching, pastel outfits, no family pictures in front of the church, and no large family lunches planned where the kids look for eggs. We’ll likely hear a message on the Resurrection of Christ, but we’ll watch it on a screen in our living room with pajamas on. We will celebrate the Resurrection after a week where many have died as a result of a pandemic that is ravaging the globe.
A Clear Vision of Current Reality
COVID-19 has affected just about everyone. For some, it’s simply a mere inconvenience (having to stay at home or long lines at the store). Others have lost jobs, businesses, or any hope of financial security. Some have been extremely sick and many have lost their life or the life of a loved one.
In the midst of such chaos, it can feel like a disconnect to sing upbeat, celebratory songs. It seems out-of-tune to talk about victory. There is a felt tension between celebrating resurrection and the reality of death we see all around us.
While we may feel such tension more this year, it’s certainly not a new reality. Every year that we live in a cursed world, the idea of celebrating resurrection is a shocking, foreign concept. Because the Resurrection is at the heart of the gospel, Christians speak about it often and such familiarity can cause us to lose the sense of wonder and surprise. The reality is that every year is a year of suffering, sickness, death, sin, and trials…but some years provide more insulation from such difficulty.
However, for 2020, such reality is explicit and unavoidable. The hope of the Resurrection doesn’t mean we pretend that suffering and darkness aren’t real. We don’t have to buy into some false optimism that is blind to hardship; we don’t put our heads in the sand and pretend that everything is ok. Instead, we face our problems head on and remember that even the difficulty we are now seeing has been conquered by Christ. The hope provided by the Resurrection of Christ is unstained by our circumstances. Suffering and hardship don’t negate the Resurrection but show our need for it. As D.A. Carson said, “There’s nothing wrong with you a good resurrection won’t fix.”
Our True and Everlasting Hope
Ever since sin entered the world, things are not as they should be. There is darkness and evil all around us. Worse still, the evil isn’t just around us but also within us. Our hearts are contaminated by the curse of sin and we are unable to change. However, we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ because he did what we couldn’t do. He took on flesh, dwelt among us, lived a perfect life, and then died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. Thankfully, though, he didn’t stay dead. To show the full acceptance of the sacrifice and the defeat of death itself, Christ was raised from the dead in ultimate victory. This is why we celebrate. This is why we sing.
Such victory over sin gives us eternal hope. Paul said that if Christians have hope in this life only, then we are of all men most to be pitied (1 Cor. 15:19). The fullness of our hope isn’t realized in this life but in the next. This world will never be made completely right, but the Lord will make a new heaven and new earth unstained by the curse of sin. This life will be plagued by pandemics, hardship, difficulty, and death. We long to go home where those things are no more.
Let the angst you feel in your soul drive you to long for your true home. May we not hold expectations that this world will ever satisfy us or that things will be the way they should be. As we face the truth of this reality, we hold on to the hope we have because of the Resurrection of Christ. This truth transcends our present circumstances and we can celebrate it whether we are in pastels or pajamas.
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Rev. 21:4).