By Keith Boyette
Easter 2020 is probably unlike any Easter we have experienced. The celebration of Easter draws even the most reluctant church-goer out to join others in embracing a message of hope. Attendance at an Easter Sunrise service has been a yearly part of my celebration for as long as I can remember. Such services will be a rarity in a world in which Covid-19 protections dominate.
Easter 2020 will be more like the first Easter. When Mary went to the garden to anoint Jesus’ body that first Easter morning, she did not approach the tomb with joy and celebration. Death hung in the air. Mary came out of love, but how confusing the time was in her life. Jesus – the expected Messiah – had been crucified. Hope had been lost. The disciples were hiding behind locked doors, fearful their deaths might shortly follow the death of their leader. Silence and separation predominated in the early hours of that first Easter morning. The darkness which enveloped Mary as she approached the tomb was more than a physical experience. Yet Mary pressed forward into the unknown.
For many of us this Easter, the uncertainty of the future is all too real. Will we be infected by Covid-19? What about our loved ones? How will the pandemic impact our lives? How long will the instability last? Will we have what we need to move into the future?
Mary must have felt that she had come to the end of herself that first Easter. If we are honest, we have come to the end of ourselves this Easter. We are not in control. We do not have a cure for Covid-19 or much else in this earthly journey. Any false sense of security has been ripped away. We quiver, naked in so many ways, before our Creator God. Unless He moves, we are lost.
At creation, the earth is formless and empty, and darkness covered the waters. Chaos reigned. But God moved and brought light and then order. No one else has that ability to do so. In the prologue to his gospel, John declares of the Word become flesh, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”
In the silence, the despair, the hopelessness, the starkness of that first Easter morning, Mary’s world is transformed. Where death reigned, life blossoms. Where darkness (physical, emotional, and spiritual) predominated, light shines forth. Where despair prevailed, hope is born.
And Mary cannot keep the news to herself. She must share the good news with others. The unimaginable has occurred – Jesus is alive. He is risen from the dead. Death has been defeated. The impossible has become the possible. The old has passed away, the new has come. New wine has been poured into new wineskins. As the prophets proclaimed:
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
The assurance of Easter is that a pathway has been blazed for us to overcome the limitations of this world to experience the reality of eternity. Jesus declares, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness because you will have the light that leads to life.”
In Sunday School, I learned that Jesus is the answer to every question. Seems simplistic doesn’t it. And yet it is true. When we cannot penetrate the darkness of our circumstances, Jesus can. He pierces the darkness with his light. When we are met by a wall which constrains us, Jesus explodes the limitations which would fence us in. We are not defined by our sins or our brokenness. Jesus receives us as we are and grants us newness of life.
I confess that I do not like to be out of control. I like things to go according to plan. I like settled patterns – the familiar – the predictable. But I have learned that Jesus most often meets me when I am not in control, in the unexpected, when my security is not assured, when I have come to the end of myself.
On this Easter 2020, I take heart from the Apostle Paul who declared to the Christians in Corinth, “We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure” (Second Corinthians 4:5-7).
In a world where schools and businesses are closed, where we are ordered to stay at home and observe social distancing, where the familiar has been canceled, and where nothing is certain, Jesus rises above it all. He is the way, the truth, and the life! He is victorious! And that is not wishful thinking. All creation bears witness to this reality. There is victory in Jesus!
As you navigate this Easter day, may you be ushered into a living encounter with the Risen Christ. May you proclaim with the saints, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” May you with Mary go forth to proclaim the Good News to everyone. May you experience the transforming power of the resurrection in your life – the old is gone; a new life has begun! Hallelujah!
Keith Boyette is the president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.