Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Death of Easter: A Holy Week Reflection

I write this on Maundy Thursday, as the ominous events of Good Friday begin to cast their long shadow over the controversial figure of Jesus of Nazareth, and as a global pandemic casts its long shadow over our celebration of Holy Week.

Jesus' mind was made up. He had "set his face to Jerusalem," all the while knowing what awaited him there. Neither the Romans nor the Jewish leaders had room in their power structures for his rule. Each one depended entirely on the status quo -- that delicate political balance that would line their pockets and ensure their children's futures. For Jesus to bear his message to the capital city would require either their capitulation or his death. He knew this. He knew the explosive potential of his own ministry. To keep the peace, to maintain control, they must stamp out alternative visions of reality. People's hearts were too easily swayed by hope. Jesus stirred a dangerous ferment of ideas by speaking of the kingdom of God, and by hinting that the kingdom had come. The discontent of the masses was fanned into flame by his presence. They thought only in terms of military overthrow. And how could they think otherwise? Worldly power structures were all they had ever known.

Still, he went. This fateful act was the reason for his coming. Ironically, the way to win would be to lose. Jesus' demonstration of self-giving love was the most powerful articulation possible of his vision for a new kind of kingdom. It seemed contrary to reason. It was contrary to reason, under the world's system. But Jesus knew something they didn't know. There was another path to victory. A path through death itself.
Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24 NIV)
In these unprecedented times, as the world's leaders seek to contain the spread of the CoronaVirus, the church is not allowed to gather. No Holy Week services? It would seem a defeat for the church to cancel the high point of the Christian year. Sure, we can view sermons online and sing in our living rooms. But it is not the same. We are missing the most joy-filled celebration of our faith, the essence of the Christian message. We are witnessing the untimely death of Easter. But if we've learned anything from the story of Good Friday, we should know that apparent defeats can be something else entirely. The path to victory passes through death itself.

The power of the gospel does not depend on large crowds or full-throated singing or Easter lilies or new dresses. All we need for Easter is an empty tomb. Perhaps this year, more than any other year, we will rediscover this. In the isolation of our own homes, we bury this seed. Wearily, we await the passing of the pandemic's fury. But we do so in hope, because we have an advantage. We know something Jesus' first followers didn't know. We know resurrection. We can already anticipate the joy of long-awaited handshakes and hugs. We scarcely knew how important these were until we were deprived of them. This death of community will be reborn in a deeper embrace.

More importantly, we know that Jesus' resurrection is only the beginning of what God has planned for all of creation. This broken and dying world will be brought to life. Sickness and sorrow will be reversed. Sin defeated. Death conquered. And all things made new. This is our confident hope.

Let us not mistake numbers with power. The Christian movement started under the radar with small groups of shaken believers, gathered in homes shuttered against the fury of Rome. Jesus appeared to them bodily, behind closed doors, and banished their doubts. He can do the same today. His presence and power are limitless.

May the temporary death of our Easter spring forth into a harvest of faith-filled community.

Imagine how those who don't normally attend church will watch online from the safety of their living rooms.

Imagine how the gospel is infusing our homes as we gather to pray and sing and read Scripture within these walls.

May the temporary death of our Easter remind us of our true hope--that God is making all things new.

What if the profound brokenness that characterizes our world fueled our desire for the kingdom of God to come in all its glory?

What if we grasped more deeply the ultimate reason for our joy--not that all is well, but that all will be well.

May the temporary death of our Easter be the beginning of something even better.


  1. Carmen, you are a great writter

  2. "May the temporary death of our Easter be the beginning of something even better." Wish I had seen this yesterday! It makes for the perfect ending for the series I taught at my church (online of course) - Now What (Resurrection is not the end, but the beginning). Great post - really enjoyed it!