This has to be the strangest Easter Sunday ever. Usually, at this time of year, the forty days of Lent has given way to Holy Week, and we remember Jesus’ triumphant welcome into Jerusalem, his betrayal and denial by friends, his conviction on trumped up charges, death by crucifixion, his disciples frightened and scattered – their hopes dashed. A depressing Saturday was then interrupted by the remarkable news of a victorious empty tomb. Impossibly, Jesus had risen from the dead.
For two millennia, millions of Christians around the world have borne witness to hope of life over death, not least by attending in vast numbers church services on Easter Sunday. But today, church buildings throughout the UK and around the world are closed, and their pews empty. Instead of meeting in buildings, the church has moved online – for the time being at least.
The reason for this unprecedented situation of empty church buildings on Easter Sunday is of course the coronavirus pandemic, Covid-19; the worst health emergency in living memory. Some listening to me tonight will have lost loved ones to Covid-19, know someone at home or in hospital with it, or may yourself be showing symptoms. So far, Covid-19 has killed 100,000 people worldwide, and today exceeded 10,000 in the UK.
Health scientists and the government do not believe the pandemic has yet peaked, and do not know what the end might look like, or when it will come. In the meantime, we are advised to stay home, and if we go out for the reasons allowed, to practice social distancing, wash our hands often, until such time as these restrictions are lifted. This invisible killer stalks us like something from a horror movie but is very real; and we do well to adhere to the instructions to stay home until it is safe to return to normality.
As a Christian my role is not to pretend that this season is less dreadful than it is; but to be as close as is permissible to those who are sick, those who mourn, those who are bereaved, those who are fearful; remembering and supporting those who care for us, and those whose decisions impact upon us.
The resurrection of Jesus offers us something of a model for dealing with the horrible now, where social distancing makes life unbearably hard! This feels like that Saturday before Sunday’s resurrection. It resembles the valley of the shadow of death David speaks of in the Psalms.
But the Easter message reminds us not to fear, to hang on in there, because God is still alive, and Sunday will break through. Maranatha, come to us Lord Jesus.
As broadcast on BBC WM Sunday Night with Nikki Tapper