Easter Sunday is fast approaching. But for the 80% of American adults who celebrate Easter, this year’s celebration is bound to be bittersweet. The Easter season is usually a time for rejoicing, for religious celebration, outdoor egg hunts and traveling to break bread and share love with families. But no matter how optimistic we may want to be this year, our churches are very likely going to stay closed for Easter, and many friends and families will remain apart because of social distancing. And for a lot of us battling illness, personal loss and heightened anxiety from COVID-19, Easter will come when there is a lot of pain. What can Easter mean for us in 2020 amid all the chaos, confusion and darkness caused by the coronavirus outbreak?
Easter is, of course, a Christian religious holiday with a special meaning for the Christian church. But more than that, the Easter holiday tells a story with a message that we all desperately need to hear right now.
Let’s first take a step back and think about Easter as the holiday that has been celebrated by Christians for centuries. At its most basic level, Easter is when Christians celebrate the resurrection. While the origins of the name “Easter” are obscure to scholars today, the celebration of Easter by Christians has always been associated with rebirth and new life. At Easter time, the light of Christ the King shines in the darkness of the world, bringing joy, hope and comfort to everyone who hopes in a life after death and a world free from fear and loss. In a manner of speaking, Easter is the summit of the Christian faith, for everything that Christians believe is grounded in an Easter hope for new, resurrected life. As St. Paul put it, “If Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, is your faith” (1 Cor 15:14).
The Christian story is so old and so familiar that many of us, even non-Christians, already know it by heart. But the story bears repeating, as every message of hope deserves to be heard again and again, especially in times of trial. The story goes like this: To a world made “subject to futility,” God sent a savior so that “creation itself would be set free from its bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21). That savior, Jesus Christ, died on the cross and was resurrected on the third day. At Easter, Christians remember this story: a story of death and longing for life that culminates in every hope fulfilled by Jesus’ resurrection testimony to the power of life, love and joy.
It’s a story rich with religious meaning for the Christians who believe they, too, will be resurrected to unending life with Christ. And yet it’s also a story that can inspire nonbelievers and believers alike with hope and confidence. The Easter message is universally uplifting: Easter says that, in the end, all evil and wrongdoing will be forgiven, our striving for joy is not in vain and life will overcome death.
We hear this message in church, of course. Yet we also live this message at our dinner tables and in our living rooms when we meet to celebrate the joy and hope that unites us as families, friends and neighbors. But even more than that, the Easter message is the secret confidence we carry in our hearts when we stay by the bedside of the sick and give generously to those who suffer while fighting for the well-being of our homes, our communities and our country.
In the end, I think this Easter message of life and joy is something we can’t afford to forget this year. We may be facing a dark moment in our national history but love for life can be a light in that darkness.
As a former pastor, my heart breaks when I see the suffering that COVID-19 has caused so many good and honest and beautiful people. As a Christian, I place all my hope in Christ, who I believe will come again to “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). But for me, the Easter message isn’t limited to my Christian faith. As an American and a neighbor to the sick and the suffering, I think a little resurrection life is something we are all pining for and which we all need.
With Easter only a week away, we can use the season to share an Easter spirit of confidence and hope. For Christians, Easter is the ultimate triumph of God’s love for us over anything that separates us from Him. But for all of us right now, the Easter season is a time for renewed communion with each other in the face of our shared struggles against COVID-19. We may be physically apart, and we may be facing a great national tragedy. But nothing can keep us from sharing comforting words, supportive phone calls, much-needed presence and love with each other.
Easter is for the living, and we celebrate it with the knowledge that death can be overcome. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). This year, let’s embrace and live out the comfort that comes from Easter joy.
Timothy Head is executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a national grassroots movement of over two million conservatives and people of faith in support of time-honored values, stronger families, and individual freedom.