Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter in Isolation

In our increasingly fragmented society, churches have been one of the few places where people of many different types can gather together and grow to know one another. Those of us who value that connection have therefore been especially troubled by the isolation prudentially undertaken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Not being able to go to our services, or choosing not to do so for our own safety and that of others, has been a sacrifice.

At no point has this cost been more apparent than today. Easter Sunday is the holiest day on the Christian calendar, and though we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ every week (and ought to every day), this annual commemoration at the season of the actual event is an especially joyous occasion. It is also one of the most fruitful opportunities for spreading the gospel of salvation from eternal death, a time when many people are more willing than usual to go to church and hear the message of hope that faith in Christ brings. To not be able to gather today is painful.

Nevertheless, I am among those who believe that it is necessary. There will be other opportunities. Things will eventually return to normal. In the meantime, it is an act of love to do all we can to keep others safe. Plus, while obviously not a replacement, the internet at least provides a stopgap for connecting and evangelizing. We can take heart in knowing that the mission does not stop even if the method changes.

It’s in my nature to look for perspective when things go wrong, and I believe I have found a particularly appropriate example for today. At a time when we are all essentially locked in our houses, it is easier to connect with the experience of the disciples.

Waiting for the First Day

Following the arrest of Jesus, His followers scattered and went into hiding (Matt. 26:56b). An interesting but rarely asked question is, why did they remain in Jerusalem? If they were afraid of sharing in their Master’s fate, why not immediately attempt to return to the relative safety of their home region to the north in Galilee? Two of them actually did leave, but not until early on Sunday morning (Luke 24:13). If the crucifixion took place on Friday, why wait so long?

The likeliest answer is that they would have been noticed going. Judaism does not measure days in the same way Western culture does. We operate on a morning/evening cycle in which the new day is reckoned to begin with sunrise and waking from sleep. Jewish people have always seen each new day as starting with dusk and going to bed.

This means that the sabbath day actually starts on Friday evenings. It was for this reason that an unnecessary attempt was made to hurry the crucifixion (John 19:31–37), and it is also why Jesus was hurriedly buried (Mark 15:42–47). These things needed to be done so that no work would have to take place on the sabbath, in keeping with the regulations of the law of Moses (Ex. 20:8–11; Deut. 21:22–23) More than that, it was also the sabbath of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Lev. 23:4–8). It was necessary that everything be completed before nightfall.

One of the things forbidden on the sabbath was travel. So, on a day when no one was allowed to go far and a time when every Jewish man was expected to be in Jerusalem rather than leaving it, the disciples were stuck. Attempting to leave before Sunday would have made them conspicuous, and even then it would be dangerous. They had remained until late on Friday, probably hoping that some miracle would save Jesus from death. After it didn’t happen, it was too late to go. They had to wait out the next few days in hiding.

Sharing the Experience

This is the situation we find in John 20:19, where we read that the disciples had the doors locked and feared every moment that they would be discovered. While the differences are apparent, are not the similarities to our current situation, also? For one thing, there was nowhere they could go. For them, it lasted only a few days, while for us it has been weeks. They literally could not leave that room while we have been merely restricted, but we all know something now of what it is to be shut in by our circumstances.

For another, the security they thought they had was shattered. All throughout Jesus’ ministry, the disciples had missed the point of His coming. They believed He was there to drive out the Romans and establish a new, earthly kingdom. Once the Romans killed Him, that hope evaporated. It left them with nothing. How many of us are going through the same thing right now? Normal life seemed so safe, so regular, but then something literally microscopic blew that life away like chaff in the wind.

Which, of course, leads to the third similarity. Loss of present security leads to future uncertainty. With the death of Jesus, the disciples had no idea what they were supposed to do. Everything they had worked for over the last three years was gone. How could they possibly move forward? How were they even going to survive? Not everyone is asking those questions now, but many are. The shadow of death hangs over us in a way it has not done in more than a century. The reasons might not be the same, but the fear is just as real.

And the answer, then as now, is Jesus. In the moment of the disciple’s deepest despair and isolation, Christ entered past locked doors and barred windows to offer them His peace (John 20:19–21). All their lost dreams and current terror were based in their own plans, plans on which they could not possibly count and which they could not hope to fulfill through their own power. But what the Lord plans, He completes. His death, which had appeared the end of everything, was the beginning of forgiveness. And the life He now lives beyond death is the source of eternal blessing for all those who learn to trust Him above everything that happens in this life.

This is the hope that carries me through troubled times, the hope I wish to share with everyone I can. It is not that being a Christian makes all bad things go away. It is that being a Christian means bad things will be overcome by unfathomable good. The proof of that is in the living Christ, whose resurrection is a certain fact and whose love I have experienced in my heart. All of us suffer doubts and loss, but we can look beyond them because Jesus is alive. He is alive, and everything can be overcome as we cling to the hope of that life. In the darkest hour, His light still shines.

We may not be all together, but we are not alone, either. Believers are united in Christ no matter the distance between us. And we are united with Christ to the very end of things and beyond (Matt. 28:20). No door is strong enough to keep Him out, no quarantine can keep Him away. Look to Him, and you will find comfort. Stay safe, stay hopeful, and have a blessed Resurrection Sunday!

Have a question about the Bible? Want to share this article on Facebook? Check out the links in the sidebar!

No comments:

Post a Comment