What a year! At this time last year we were coming to grips with the unprecedented nature of life in a pandemic. The journey we’ve walked in the midst of a global pandemic has left little untouched in our lives, and we find ourselves a year later needing to take stock of its impact.
Having considered the disruption of this past year, and the ways in which it has been a place of suffering for many, I find myself asking the same questions I asked at this time last year — “What does all this mean for Easter? What does it look like to move from the themes of Lent to the celebration of Easter in the midst of a pandemic?”
Christians around the world are preparing to consider afresh the passion of Jesus as He walks the way of the cross, and to celebrate the good news of the resurrection in the season of Easter.
But how do we celebrate authentically in a season so marked by suffering?
The gift of hope
I would suggest that the key to the celebration of resurrection is the incredible gift of hope. In Romans 5, the Apostle Paul encourages us to “rejoice in our sufferings.” This is a fairly familiar passage of scripture, so let me encourage you to stop for a minute and to hear what Paul is saying as if for the first time.
Hearing this in any season of life might cause one to wonder where Paul is going with this one. But what happens in your heart when you hear Paul’s instruction in light of the year you’ve had? The pandemic has been a place of very real suffering for many — job loss, sickness, separation from loved ones, mental health challenges, and even the loss of friends and family.
In the place of such real suffering, Paul’s encouragement to ‘rejoice’ may very well feel insensitive or void of empathy. If we continue reading, however, we find out that Paul’s encouragement to us is not idealistic or insensitive because it is firmly anchored in the beautiful Christian reality that is hope.
This year has clearly reminded us that as sons and daughters of God we are not exempt from suffering. As a priest, I am intimately aware of the many ways this past year has impacted the lives of men and women of God. At the same time, it has reminded me that for those who are in Christ, suffering is markedly different because we have hope! Our hope is the same hope that we witness in Jesus as he begins his journey toward the cross declaring “the hour has come” (Mark 14.41). It is the same hope that made the way of the cross an act of worship (Jn 12.27-28), and marked this unprecedented act of self-giving love with joy (Heb 12.2).
Learning to rejoice
When we find ourselves in the place of suffering, we can authentically rejoice because hope brings promise and meaning to our suffering. As disciples of Christ, we are called to walk the way of the cross. The way of the cross is not exempt from suffering but is actually marked by it. Jesus prepares us for this reality when He tells us that “in this world you will have tribulation.” Then, into this place of suffering and tribulation Jesus speaks the promise of His presence and the hope that is found only in the one who has “overcome the world” (John 16.33).
In Christ, hope anchors our suffering and so suffering takes on meaning. Like the cross of Christ, our suffering is marked by the hope of resurrection life! Unto that end I encourage you to:
- Consider the suffering of this past year. Don’t ignore or downplay very real places of pain, loss, grieving, unhealth, addiction, etc. Instead, acknowledge them as Christ did in John 12.27-28 when He confesses to the Father that His ‘soul is troubled.’
- Recognize the presence of God right there in the midst of suffering. Notice in Romans 5 that hope is actually a gift of the Holy Spirit who extends to us the love of God in every season of the soul.
- Rejoice in hope! In Christ, with Christ, and unto Christ let us lift up our lives in a sacrifice of worship this Easter. Remember that He who promised is faithful. Read the whole of Romans 5.1-11, not stopping at verse 2. In the same way, having recognized Good Friday and Holy Saturday, let us celebrate together the glorious resurrection of our Lord!
As we enter into the season of Easter together this year, I pray that our suffering would be a place of true rejoicing. Despite the difficult circumstances around us, when we are equipped with hope, “our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found” (The Book of Common Prayer).