As I think about Easter this weekend, the celebration is much different this year than it has been for me in the past. Even though we have belonged to churches of different sizes and traditions over the years, I can’t think of one year in my whole life that I wasn’t sitting in a church building on Easter morning.
Some years we have had lots of flowers and banners all over the sanctuary. Some years we’ve sung special songs reserved for a celebration of the resurrection of our Lord. Some years we’ve said to each other, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!” Some years we’ve been able to enjoy special musical ensembles or presentations that remind us of the depth of the sacrifice Jesus made and the power He demonstrated by rising again. It is tempting to feel pity for myself. It is tempting to think that we don’t get to celebrate Easter this year. But, brothers and sisters, that is simply not true.
God’s people have been spread out before. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not have other families join them to follow the journey that God had called them to as his special chosen people. And as the Israelite nation grew, there were times that they had great unity, but those were very few and far between. Often, because of their own sin and pride, they were at war with each other and with their neighbors. God allowed them to be exiled from their land, away from their Temple, the special place they could worship Him, and to be prevented from worshiping Him together. And it has been true since the very earliest days of the Christian faith that the Church was spread out. As the Gospel spread through the globe, one person told another person about what Christ has done for us. One person traveled to a new place and told them the News – the Good News – about Jesus. Those believers often did not have a congregation to meet with and worship with, but they still worshiped God where they were because of who He is and what He has done, regardless of what was happening around them.
And still today, Believers all over the world worship in their own homes or in very small numbers and without the resources we are used to in most of America because they are physically persecuted and unsafe for meeting together in the name of Christ.
As we think about Easter this year, and we think about the great price that Jesus Christ paid on the cross for our sins and the glorious power over death He displayed by rising again, our hearts do not need to celebrate any less joyfully or wholeheartedly. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, not only are we not separated from the love of God, but we are not even separated from His very presence. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
I’m challenged to think about this year and this Easter celebration in a new way because of these verses. I am challenged to feel united to the Church universal, throughout time, who has experienced hardships and trials throughout the ages. I am challenged to feel united to fellow Believers around the world who meet quietly in their homes, hearts thrilled with what God has done, but tongues and voices silenced for the safety of those around them. And even more than that, I am challenged to see this opportunity to joyfully and willingly give up my right to do things as I want to do them (like meet in a huge group with lots of music and triumphant singing) for the sake of others who are “weaker” than me. This is the exact story of the crucified Christ. “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ shall come again.
Oh, God, let my heart be wholly fixed on You this weekend and let my celebrations of Christ’s death and resurrection be sincere and filled with joy today and every day. Amen.