Church buildings are silent. Restaurants are closed. Family members who aren’t already under the same roof will not be gathering for a meal of ham or lamb, scalloped potatoes and spring vegetables. The real egg hunts are happening in grocery aisles, not backyards.
This Easter Sunday is very different than any we have experienced in living memory.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has shut down cities, economies and in-person social interaction around the world and casts a shadow more in keeping with the darkness of the Good Friday crucifixion than with the sunrise of the Easter resurrection.
It is a special day for more than 2 billion Christians worldwide and 167 million in the United States, most of whom will be worshiping through remote livestreams or even Zoom, another reminder of what the virus has done to our daily lives.
It is not a religious holiday for others, but it has become a celebration nonetheless.
The holiday involves family gatherings, events for children and the unofficial celebration of the beginning of spring, a traditional time for embracing renewal, rebirth and a sense of hope after a winter of discontent. That’s a hope shared by Iranians in the Nowruz New Year, by Indians during the Holi festival of colors, by Jews marking Passover and by many, many others.
This year, the Easter message of hope and renewal is especially welcome, as the nation heads into what experts believe will be the peak of COVID-19 deaths. For most of us, Easter is the first major holiday we have celebrated since the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders began to constrict our lives. It is a difficult moment for many of us.
It’s a great time to collectively pause and embrace all the good news and all the hope we can find.
The latest projections suggest that the pandemic curve may finally be bending, that the number of deaths — still tragically high — will not be as great as once feared and that a return to something closer to normal may be on the horizon. Our suffering is not in vain and sooner or later a new day will come.
This is not to diminish the Christian good news, the gospel, that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” and that Son “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Easter is the day in which the hearts of Christians around the world quicken at the words,
“He is not here; he has risen” and to respond, “He is risen indeed.”
For Christian believers this is not just another “inspiring story,” because believing the biblical account of the cross changes lives in ways no mere allegory can. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be inspirational for all, especially as we find ourselves struggling against a common enemy.
“A man who was completely innocent offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world,” Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu who changed the world through the political theory of nonviolent resistance, said. “It was a perfect act.”
Our Easter observance this year should be a time to count our blessings for the doctors, nurses, EMTs, first-responders, police officers, grocery store workers, delivery drivers, farmers, truckers and so many others who are putting themselves in harm’s way to keep our lives tolerable.
Let’s also appreciate those who have stayed at home, avoided unnecessary travel and crowds and followed the guidelines from medical experts to reduce the spread of the virus and save lives.
Those Christians who stayed away from crowded sanctuaries this week are the ones who showed faith in the promise that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Even if it’s on the internet and the two or three are sitting six feet apart.
Easter is not just a message of hope, but it is not less than that. We will make it through this. Do not lose faith, hold on to hope.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”